By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
Some old memories die hard. In the case of the Omaha Stormchasers/Royals/Golden Spikes, it was never the team, it was always the venue.
For more than 50 years, Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium has had a special place in the hearts and minds of Omaha and baseball fans all across America. But for the Triple-A baseball affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, there had never been that connection.
When the conversation started about building a new stadium for the future of the College World Series, the Stormchasers had a difficult decision to make: tie themselves to a downtown stadium and remain an afterthought in the minds of most baseball fans, or go out on their own and see if Omaha would finally give the franchise its due.
Team president Alan Stein decided to take a chance and build a Triple-A-specific stadium out west. So far, the experiment in legitimacy is going better than most expected.
“I’ve heard nothing but positives about Werner Park,” said stadium usher Bill Hooper. “It’s a very reasonable value, there’s lots to do besides watch the game and all the fans seem to enjoy their time here.”
Unlike the majors, Triple-A teams have to do a lot more than just baseball to create and maintain the interest needed in order to be successful. The Stormchasers tried hard at Rosenblatt but no matter what, they felt irrelevant in a 24,000-seat stadium with only 5,000 in attendance.
The only time the place had a real baseball feel was the Fourth of July game when everyone was there for the fireworks. Otherwise, it was hard not to think of the franchise as a joke playing in front of a mostly empty stadium where many of the fans came for $1 beers on Thursdays.
That’s not the case at Werner Park. Granted, we still don’t know most of the names on the field or where the teams fall in the standings, but Stein and the Stormchasers have done an excellent job creating a great fan experience.
Even on a Tuesday night, there were more than 5,000 fans, and for once it felt like the team was playing in front of an actual crowd. Whether you’re a family bringing kids to the ballpark or a college student looking for good entertainment value, Werner Park has something for everyone.
Ticket prices are very reasonable. Even spots in the Jim Bean Club, a bar along the first-base foul line, are less than $20.
Xtreme Pizza, Swirls, Famous Dave’s, Chicken Fry Fry, La Mesa, Omaha Steaks Grill and Hot Dog Nation each have a spot around the stadium, giving Werner Park one of the best food spreads in baseball – minors or majors.
In left field, there’s a Centris Family Fun Park featuring a carousel, playground equipment, bouncy castles and many other activities for kids. Center field features a bar underneath the scoreboard and video screen, a basketball court and a mini baseball field to play Wiffle Ball on.
Clearly, Stein and the Stormchasers read the minor league handbook. They’re running a genuinely great baseball franchise that we can all take seriously.
Simply put, it’s worth the trip. When you compare it to going to the movies or out to the bar, you get a lot more for your dollar.
Perhaps the only drawback is that the stadium is way out west by Highway 370 in the middle of nowhere. It doesn’t have quite the view over center field that TD Ameritrade Park does but it also doesn’t have the parking hassle.
It was a risk to separate the franchise from the CWS stadium and downtown Omaha, but take a trip to Werner Park and you’ll find it difficult to argue with the decision.