Fans get final peek at Rosenblatt
Stadium to be demolished in July to allow for zoo expansion
OMAHA, Neb. -- Baseball fans wanting one last look at Rosenblatt Stadium waited in a light rain to file through the left-field gate on Friday. Many were surprised to see what had become of the home of the College World Series from 1950-2010.
What once was beautifully manicured grass is now brown, flattened and dotted with prickly weeds. Most of the grandstand seats are gone, as is the scoreboard, except for the arc across the top that has "Rosenblatt" spelled out.
"I can't believe it went down so fast. Golly," said Jonathan Neu of Charlotte, N.C. Neu and three friends who were with him have attended the College World Series off and on for the past 15 years.
"Lots of memories here," said Russell "Mutt" Schonekas. "The powers-that-be wanted to have a shiny new toy, and they got it."
The stadium opened in 1948 and began hosting the CWS two years later. Millions were spent on renovations, but city leaders decided in 2008 that building a new, $128 million stadium would be the best way to keep the CWS in Omaha.
It was a field of dreams for thousands of players and fans, with famous moments including LSU's Warren Morris whacking a two-out homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat Miami for the 1996 title; Minnesota's Dave Winfield fanning 29 as a pitcher in the 1973 CWS; Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak ending in a 1987 CWS game against Stanford; and many more.
A foundation for the nearby zoo bought the Rosenblatt property from the city of Omaha. Demolition of the old stadium on the hill in south Omaha begins next month to make way for zoo expansion.
With the CWS starting, the foundation is opening Rosenblatt for four hours a day for five days to let people walk the grounds and reminisce. The site closes Monday. About 1,100 people came through on Thursday, and 1,200 more showed up Friday.
It was eerily quiet, almost like a graveyard, as people milled around. Many spoke in hushed tones. Dads played catch with their sons. Kids rolled grounders to each other. One boy pitched from the tiny makeshift mound that was put in place for the event. Some ran the bases.
One man proposed to his fiancee at home plate, and then the couple went into the grandstand to stake a claim to seats numbered 6 and 13 to correspond with their June 2013 wedding.
"You get the whole gamut as far as people's emotions," said Ken Cratty, who was working security at the gate. "Some people were almost in tears. I talked to a couple gentlemen who had been here since the very first world series, and they were here to say goodbye."
Dave Lorber, an assistant coach for Stony Brook, walked the outfield with his father. Dave grew up watching the CWS on TV.
"I was fortunate enough to go to the last series at Yankee Stadium before that shut. It's the history," he said. "It's not what it looks like or the condition. It's all about what happened inside that is more important than anything else."
Jesse Cuevas, the longtime Rosenblatt groundskeeper who retired from the city this year, said he couldn't bear to see the stadium in its current condition.
Neither could Florida State coach Mike Martin, who led 14 Seminoles teams to Rosenblatt and is here to play at TD Ameritrade Park for the first time. Martin said he had planned to visit the old stadium but changed his mind when he heard about how it had fallen into disrepair.
"I want to remember the hill, the beautiful ballpark," Martin said. "I was told that I wouldn't want to hit my golf ball out there in center field, because I might not ever get it out, it's so thick. I'm going to remember Rosenblatt like it was."