OMAHA, Neb. -- The curtain will soon be drawn on Rosenblatt Stadium.
The College World Series' best-of-three final opens here Monday between the UCLA Bruins and the South Carolina Gamecocks. The No. 6 national seed Bruins look like the best team, relying on dominating pitching and Hollywood style. Yet, don't discount the Gamecocks, a three-time national runner-up who survived four consecutive elimination games and three days ago was down to their last strike.
That's what Rosenblatt Stadium is down to as well. Its last strike.
Next year the CWS moves three miles away, to the new TD Ameritrade Park. Out with the old -- 61 years of college baseball's finest memories -- and in with the new.The party's moving downtown. Or is it?
"I think Omaha and the NCAA, they have a big challenge ahead of them because you have to replicate everything that this whole part of town and Rosenblatt is about at that new place," TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said on his way out of town after the Horned Frogs were eliminated by UCLA Saturday afternoon.
While Rosenblatt will be razed to make room for expansion at the neighboring Omaha zoo -- zoo officials announced recently that they would leave home plate and the foul poles in place as a tribute to the ballpark -- construction continues at TD Ameritrade Park.
City leaders agreed to build the $140 million, 24,000-seat downtown stadium in exchange for a 25-year agreement from the NCAA to keep the CWS here.
Players say the marriage works because of the passion this city displays for the CWS.
"I think it actually exceeded my expectations," TCU catcher Bryan Holaday said of his CWS experience.
"I really didn't know what to think when I came in here. I knew the stadium was going to be packed. I knew the community was great. But, in every aspect, I mean, in our hotel, people were unbelievable. And the way people treat you when you're walking up and down, going to the field to watch other games, it's just the environment is unbelievable.
"It just exceeded every expectation that I had."
While critics of the new stadium believe the CWS will lose its old-time charm when it moves, supporters say progress is good.
The new stadium will offer all the modern amenities, such as a 360-degree concourse that will allow fans to have a view of the game at all times, more restrooms and concession stands and spacious clubhouses and indoor batting cages for the players.
It's also well known that tailgating at Rosenblatt is as much a tradition as the games. There will also be plenty of room at the new stadium for the friendly revelry.
"It's an absolute celebration," Houston Rockies reliever Huston Street, who made three CWS appearances at Texas, said recently. "I mean, if you just played the games, it would be special. But what they do, what Omaha does, they've embraced it so that it's not just a memory, it's like a lifelong experience."
With a capacity of 25,500, Rosenblatt is the largest baseball stadium outside the major leagues in the United States. The park, which has hosted the CWS each year since 1950 and is also home to the Kansas City Royals' Triple A affiliate, was built in 1947 and originally called Omaha Municipal Stadium before being renamed in 1964 to honor former mayor Johnny Rosenblatt.
Clemson coach Jack Leggett, who also played in the CWS as an infielder for the 1976 Maine team, admits he will miss Rosenblatt. However, he also stressed it's the locals who generate the hospitality and help serve lifetime memories from the CWS.
"There's no better place," Leggett said.
"Rosenblatt's been unbelievable. I've got memories as a player and as a coach. But the people are awesome. The people will take their show from here, a couple of miles away, to the new stadium. There will be another awesome situation in a new stadium. And I hope we can be one of those teams that plays in the last games at Rosenblatt and the first games at the new stadium."
The curtain will soon be drawn on Rosenblatt Stadium. But, first, a champion must be crowned.
UCLA has been to the CWS only twice before, in 1969 and 1997, and went 0-2 on both trips. South Carolina has dropped title games to Texas twice (2002 and 1975) and Arizona State (1977).
"One of the things we talked about is kind of establishing a new tradition and kind of setting the tone for the program going forward," UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer said. "And it has been one of our driving goals all year."