Tonight, the major leagues get the stage first in Omaha. The Kansas City Royals will take on the Detroit Tigers in TD Ameritrade Park, and how’s that as a warmup act for the College World Series? Makes you wonder what the Royals and Tigers can expect, from the rare regular season game played in a non-MLB stadium.
There seemed like only one guy to ask.
Say hello to Ed Servais. He’s the head baseball coach at Creighton, and has been for 16 years. Since the Bluejays play their home games just down the street from campus in TD Ameritrade, he knows the place like he knows his own garage. He also knows something about the big leagues; his nephew Scott Servais is manager of the Seattle Mariners. So we’ll let him give the tour.
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“Obviously it’s very big in the gaps — 385 is a little bit abnormal, especially for college kids. It’s 400-plus to straightaway center. At this time of year, when the wind blows from the south, it blows in, so hitters can get frustrated," Servais said. "The modern day hitter right now is very interested in launch angles and fly balls. That’s dangerous in that ballpark. You have to change your game a little bit. TD Ameritrade forces you — which I don’t have any problem with — to execute the game kind of old style; bunt, hit-and-run, steals. Normally our team can execute that type of baseball.”
So how might the Royals and Tigers take to TD Ameritrade?
“I’m really interested to see that. I think they’re going to get frustrated, to be honest with you, because they’re going to hit some balls hard to centerfield, and there has yet to be a ball go out to straightaway center, and the stadium’s now eight years old. It depends upon the wind," Servais said. "Now, if it’s a quiet day -- and they’re playing a night game, and the wind settles at night -- they might be able to drive the ball. The big league game’s so much about home runs right now, that I’m very curious to find out how much their fly balls stay in the ballpark.”
Not that Kansas City and Detroit are sending many fly balls out of many ballparks. Last check, the Royals were 26th in the major leagues in homers, and the Tigers 29th. But home runs or not, it figures to be a loud night in Omaha.
“We’re lucky, we’ve got one of our own playing in it,” Servais said, referring to Creighton product Nicky Lopez, who is Kansas City’s second baseman. “Not that they needed that to draw people; it’s already been a sellout. It’s going to be an incredible atmosphere. I think the big leaguers are going to enjoy that because it’s going to have a college feel to it. You’re going to have funs buzzing, they’re not going to just wait for something to happen, they’re going to be buzzing when they take their pre-game hitting before the game.
“I just hope the weather cooperates, something it hasn’t done so far up north.”
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College baseball coaches everywhere dream of getting a team to Omaha. Servais does that every home game. Not that it’s a 100 percent positive during recruiting.
“The kids come in there and they’re in awe. But to be honest, sometimes it hurts recruiting hitters. Hitters want to play in ballparks where they can put up big numbers, so we’ve got to talk them through that a little bit," Servais said. "But I wouldn’t trade it. It’s the best ballpark to play a college baseball game in. You see true baseball in that ballpark, and it forces you to execute the game.”
There’s another factor about his home park for Servais. The TD Ameritrade folks want the field perfect for the CWS, so they’re hesitant about letting the Bluejays chop up the grounds by playing through bad weather.
“We have a great relationship with the grounds staff, we have a great relationship with the organization that runs the stadium,” Servais said. “There haven’t been too many times where they had to pull me back a little bit. I’m an old school guy, I’m pretty sensitive to any field, let alone TD Ameritrade, so I don’t push the envelope very often. We don’t play through light rain, we don’t play through drizzle. We don’t start a game in that situation where you might on a turf field. I think we do our part in making sure that we maintain the integrity of that field.”
Servais plans on being at the Royals-Tigers game, and much of the CWS. He fell in love with the event when he saw it for the first time as a fan in 1991. You’d never guess who he saw play.
Creighton. The Bluejays upset Clemson.
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“I had no idea that someday I’d be coaching at Creighton. It kind of brings tears to my eyes sometimes when I think about it," Servais said. "I was just a fan, a small college coach at the time, my nephew went to Creighton, I knew the head coach. It was a seven-hour drive and I got to see my first game. It just shows you what can happen if you just work at it, keep your nose to the ground, looking straight ahead.
“The thing I remember the most was the tornado warning right after the game, and I didn’t know where to go. It wasn’t like I had a hotel or I was from Omaha. I was just thinking, how do I get out of this predicament? I think I ended up going to a restaurant.”
Now Omaha is home. And next week, the big leagues – not to mention eight starry-eyed college teams -- are coming as guests.