OMAHA, Neb. -- Dennis Poppe, the NCAA administrator who oversaw the growth of the College World Series into one of the nation's major summer sports traditions, is working his 26th and final CWS.

Poppe, vice president of championships and alliances, is retiring Jan. 1 after 39 years at the NCAA. He said he plans to keep coming back every year to take in the event as a fan.

Poppe was the key intermediary between the NCAA's top brass and Omaha leaders, and he is credited with helping keep the CWS in the city where it's been played every year since 1950.

When Poppe started running the tournament in 1988, the CWS averaged under 15,000 fans a game and was played at a Rosenblatt Stadium, which had fallen into disrepair.

Attendance steadily climbed and Rosenblatt underwent $40 million in renovations during the next 20 years. When the city decided to stop putting money into Rosenblatt and build 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park, the NCAA rewarded Omaha with a 25-year contract that keeps the CWS in the city through 2035.

''I know of nobody who has done more for college baseball the last 20 years,'' American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz said.

Poppe, 65, also has been the longtime lead administrator for football championships, and he has run national tournaments for ice hockey, tennis, golf, swimming, skiing and wrestling. He said the CWS is most dear to him.

Seeing TD Ameritrade Park built on land that previously was the site of a railyard and rundown industrial properties, he said, has been the crowning achievement of his professional life. Restaurants, hotels and shops have sprung up around the stadium since it opened in 2011.

''I take great pride when I take a look around the stadium, because I know what this area looked like when we first came to the College World Series, and what it looks like now is unbelievable,'' Poppe said. ''You want to come down here and be part of this activity.''

Poppe said his favorite memories include having his wife and children come to Omaha with him for two weeks each summer and seeing the joy on the faces of players as they celebrated winning national championships.

''I'm stealing from [Disneyland],'' he said. ''At this time of year, this is the happiest place on earth.''