As I gaze out over the skyline high atop TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska, I realize that I'm sitting at the site of what may well be the greatest and perhaps only perfect sporting event in the United States.
Every sport has a championship, but few play theirs at the same venue in the same town every year. Few towns who host championships do so with the pride, passion and precision that Omaha does. It is not the final destination of just two or four teams looking to win a title. Eight teams, often from different corners of the country gather here every year, bringing with them their fans. Most of those fans are native to the city or state the teams play in, turning Omaha into the ultimate melting pot of American culture.
The people cheering for UCLA couldn't be anymore different from the people rooting for LSU, but in Omaha, they all come together to make the College World Series the perfect All-American event.
This city, normally a midwestern hub of insurance companies, construction giants and Fortune 500 headquarters, all but shuts down for two weeks in the middle of June and transforms itself into a giant college baseball themed amusement park.
From where I sit, American flags from various venues and businesses dot the horizon. They are joined by College World Series banners and billboards. As you look to right field, history is right there to slap you in the face via Blatt Beer and Table, a sports bar/gastro pub whose named pays homage to the iconic stadium that hosted the series for sixty years. On the backside of Blatt, visitors will find the new location of Zestos, the popular dairy bar that used to be across the street from Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium.
Just to the southwest of the stadium, fans can get their fill of food, drinks, merchandise and all things baseball at the Baseball Village. Just beyond center field, fans can see a stage erected in the parking lot of the CenturyLink Center, where live music will be played throughout various times over the next two weeks.
Everything about the series screams Americana. Fathers and sons leaning over the dugouts during batting practices, trying to get pictures and autographs. Fans standing in endless lines ready to pay any prices necessary to get their hands on the greasiest ballpark comfort foods. And if you look out over left field, you can see the bluffs of western Iowa, the state where the famed "Field of Dreams" from the Kevin Costner movie of the same name calls home.
Some were upset when the series moved from Rosenblatt to its new, more modern digs. But after attending the last three College World Series, I understand now that it is a move that had to be done. Many native Omahans hate to hear it, but the event had simply outgrown the old stadium and its South Omaha location. It was time to move it to the bright lights of downtown, where the city could truly be the star of the show.
The College World Series was brought to Omaha by a native of the town in 1950. The stadium would eventually be named after him and become part of the city's soul. Now, the series is played in a stadium that was built thanks in large part to the work of a former mayor who made a deal with the NCAA to keep the event in Omaha through 2035. The ballpark bears the name of a company founded by a native Nebraskan and sits on a street named after the aforementioned mayor.
Now, the signature event in collegiate baseball has a permanent home in a state of the art stadium fit for crowning a champion. It is the the Mecca for thousands of college players who lace up their cleats every year. Their goal is to one day make the journey to a stadium in a city that they might otherwise never have visited.
This is Omaha. This is Baseball. This is the College World Series and there is not a more perfect event in all of American sport.