OMAHA, Neb. -- If any part of the first day of the College World Series is expected to have ceremonial flair, it would be the first game of the day. But here comes the curveball -- the second game of this year’s CWS, a battle between Louisville and Vanderbilt, held the most pre-game pomp and circumstance.
After Texas fell to UC Irvine 3-1 in the opener Saturday, the burnt orange and blue in the stands was replaced by gold and red and the stadium again began to buzz.
Before the players took to the field, before the color guard marched out, before the national anthem was sung, historical reenactors from Omaha’s Fort Atkinson stepped onto the field to honor the 237th birthday of the American flag.Volunteers walked out and unfurled a replica of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that flew over Fort McHenry -- the place Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would become the national anthem – as The Star-Spangled Banner was sung.
“This is the largest venue we’ve ever been in,” Omaha native Tom Wood, who portrays Col. Henry Leavenworth, said.
“We only got word a week ago we’d be here. You get all kinds of reactions walking here in costume. I don’t know how they knew, but they knew we’d have something to do with the flag. The fans salute us and wish us luck. They’re great in Omaha.”
Wood and his fellow reenactors portray the 1819-27 period of the fort’s history with uniforms modeled after the War of 1812. Fort Atkinson -- the first United States fort west of the Mississippi -- was originally built on the site of Lewis and Clark’s meeting with the Otoe-Missouri tribe and is now home to a Nebraska state park.
“We got to stand out there with a flag that stood over Fort McHenry on Flag Day and it’s also the birthday of the U.S. Army. I’ve been doing this for years and you still don’t get used to it,” he said.
Wood, though, is no stranger to the College World Series. “I grew up a few blocks from Rosenblatt [Stadium, the site of the College World Series from 1950-2010],” Wood said. “Up there, you’re just immersed in it. You can’t escape it.”
As many times as Wood has experienced the fever surrounding college baseball’s marquee event, Saturday was his first time actually taking in a game.
“The CWS crowds are great. It’s so different to be down [at TD Ameritrade Park] than at Rosenblatt,” he said. “Living three blocks from there, you always looked forward to the excitement.”
From History Channel specials to roles in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to now the College World Series, Wood and the other Fort Atkinson reenactors paid tribute to America’s past before America’s pastime got under way.
“It’s a real honor. I lost my son in Afghanistan, so anything I can do to help honor the guys in uniform,” Wood said. “It being Flag Day, well, that’s just a huge plus.”