History speaks many tongues at College World Series
OMAHA, Neb. – When college baseball teams gather their forces in early January to ready for another season, there is one clear objective on their collective minds. Some write it on white boards. Some decorate their locker rooms with this one-word slogan. Those teams with a decades-long history of achievement know full well if they don’t reach their objective the season could be called unfulfilled … a failure … or only a “what might have been.”
That one word is “Omaha.” The legendary site of the College World Series. Since 1950 the city in easternmost Nebraska has hosted the culmination of any baseball season – the College World Series. From 1950 until recently the “Series” was played at Rosenblatt Stadium, where the event was re-located from Kalamazoo (1947-48) and Wichita (1949).
The city of Omaha is on the Missouri River, just across the waters from Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was once the home of Ar-Sar-Ben Race Course, but the thoroughbreds have long since departed.
Omaha’s populace has adopted the College World Series like it was a well-heeled uncle whose only want in life was to leave you his millions of dollars. Many figure their yearly vacation plans into spending days and nights watching the college boys play baseball for the national championship.
Crowds above 20,000 per game are the norm.
The years when Creighton University, the local college, won its way to the World Series were reason enough for community-wide celebrations.
Some schools have been so regular in their visits to Omaha that they have become fan favorites if Creighton or Nebraska aren’t playing. A few others have not curried any favor and elicit only grumbling and discontent when they come back for another try at a championship never won.
The University of Texas with its 35 visits and six national titles has appeared in more College World Series than any school.
Miami has one title in its 25 appearances. Florida State is back again this year for the 23rd time. The Seminoles have never won a championship, but were in three title games. Arizona State (23 appearances), Southern California (21 appearances and 12 national championships), Oklahoma State (20 times in Omaha), Cal-State Fullerton (19 appearances and two championships) and LSU (19 times in Omaha and six championships) are those with the most frequent flyer miles to Omaha.
Southern California and Coach Rod Dedeaux won national titles for five consecutive years (1970-74). No-nonsense Coach Augie Garrido had two championships at Cal-State Fullerton and two more at Texas before being forced out in Austin after the 2015 season. Garrido won over 1,800 games before being shoved to the sidelines at age 76.
The much-revered Skip Bertman landed five championships while at LSU. Current coach Paul Mainieri has one national title and returns his Bayou Bengals to TD Ameritrade Park this year.
While in Omaha, teams are feted with breakfasts and luncheons in their honor. Television crews chase after them for player and coach interviews. Finding the proper player rest and team practice facilities becomes a juggling act at times.
LSU, Cal-State Fullerton and Florida State are in the eight-team field this week.
Top-seeded Oregon State, a two-time national champion, and TCU are two of the favorites – if there is such an animal when teams get this far. If Texas A&M, Louisville, Cal-State Fullerton or Florida State were to get the gold this year it would be at least a mild surprise.
Florida’s Gators have top-flight pitching but little offense.
Last year’s eye-opening champion was Coastal Carolina, but the Chanticleers from Conway, South Carolina couldn’t come close to a repeat season.
The first-round games see Oregon State vs. Cal-State Fullerton and LSU vs. Florida State in one bracket and Louisville vs. Texas A&M and TCU vs. Florida in the other bracket.
The two bracket winners will face each other in a best two-of-three series for the championship.
Each team brings its horde of rooters. The citizens of Omaha, the state of Nebraska and western Iowa adopt their favorites.
There is a holiday atmosphere smoldering in the city with laughter, late nights and tourist dollars the prevailing theme.
Players have obtained their objectives: Omaha … and now they have to hit 95-mile per hour fastballs, pay full attention to on-field happenings and hope for the best as the hoopla goes on around them.