By Mo Nuwwarah, Sports/Health Editor
The dust has settled and the baseball, grilling and partying are over. The first College World Series held at the brand new TD Ameritrade Park wrapped up with South Carolina’s 5-2 win over Florida on June 28, completing a championship series sweep and giving the Gamecocks their second straight title.
But the focus of water cooler and media talk for much of the series was not baseball but the venue. How would TD Ameritrade Park compare to the venerable Rosenblatt Stadium? Many felt the new CWS experience just wouldn’t be the same without the nostalgia and tradition that revolved around the South Omaha stalwart.
They’re certainly right.It’s not the same. TD Ameritrade Park has some big advantages over Rosenblatt, but there are definitely some things you can’t help but miss.
TD Ameritrade Park is a beautiful modern baseball stadium, undoubtedly a major improvement over 63-year-old Rosenblatt. Traveling around the stadium is far easier than it was at Rosenblatt. It’s also more pleasing to the eye. Instead of being surrounded by concrete walls, the stadium-wanderer almost always has a nice view of the field. Concession options are now more diverse and better distributed between the concourse and the bleachers. Gone are the old red, blue and yellow seats, which could be a real eyesore in games that weren’t sold out.
For the players, the new stadium brings a couple of major upgrades. The dugouts are much more roomy and comfortable. Bullpens may have been the biggest improvement – they’ve gone from mounds crammed into the corner of foul territory to major league-style fenced enclosures with room for multiple relievers to get loose.
One thing missing from this year’s series is the hefty home run count fans have grown accustomed to in years past. Just nine bombs were hit in the 14-game CWS, a far cry from the days when both teams routinely scored in double digits on the strength of wind-and-metal-bat-aided home runs. Now, the composition of the bats has been changed so they perform much like wooden bats, and the hitters no longer have the generous wind blowing towards the outfield that seemed ever-present at Rosenblatt.
Chicks may dig the long ball, but fans have to accept that sports evolve over time. Just as we don’t expect football players to run around in leather helmets, it was unrealistic to think gorilla ball would remain a part of the game forever. It was just as thrilling watching Virginia’s Danny Hultzen fan eight of the first 10 batters he faced as it was watching LSU’s old lineups belt home runs.
But the biggest improvement in the new CWS experience had nothing to do with baseball or the stadium. It was the wining and dining.
Previously, fans enjoying the beer gardens were spread out among numerous smaller tents. Now, the Old Mattress Factory hosts parties that dwarf even the largest beer gardens outside Rosenblatt. The atmosphere there far surpassed anything in years past. Plus, the bar scene in South Omaha doesn’t compare to downtown. Dozens of restaurants are within walking distance of the stadium. Fans can enjoy gourmet meals at places like V. Mertz and Omaha Prime or grab cheap chow at Pepperjax.
Parking, which some thought would be a nightmare downtown, wasn’t even remotely an issue any of the five nights I went downtown during the CWS. Traffic is no longer condensed into one street, which makes it much easier to get around.
Sure, not everything at the new CWS is an improvement over years past. If you don’t get to the Old Mattress Factory early, expect to wait in line as long an hour and pay a $5 cover. The old tailgating scene, with rows upon rows of RVs, was sadly nowhere to be found. And nothing can replace the nostalgia of the old stadium and the memories everyone has of their experiences in and around it.
But instead of stubbornly clinging to the past, let’s embrace the future. Because with a venue and location this great, we all have ample opportunity to make memories just as special in the years to come.