June 24, 2010
Think to yourself what stadiums throughout the U.S. are truly sacred. I'm not just talking about Major League Baseball, but stadiums in every sport that we all know and love. At the top of my list are Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Lambeau Field, and Dodger Stadium, What is left of Yankee Stadium, the Madison Square Garden name, Joe Lewis Arena, and Rosenblatt Stadium. Just the mention of each one of these places makes us dream of victory and sports at its best. When you think of Wrigley Field you instantly think of Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Ferguson Jenkins, and Ryne Sandberg in their prime. When I say "Lambeau Field" you think of "the Ice Bowl, Bart Star Ray Nitchke, Brett Favre, and frozen tundra". When you think of Joe Lewis Arena you think "Hockey town, Gordie Howe, Dominic Hasek, Steve Yzerman, Avalanche vs. Redwings, and those beautiful red sweaters". And when I say "Rosenblatt Stadium" you think of one thing, and that is the College World Series.
Rosenblatt Stadium was built in 1948 as Omaha Municipal Stadium. At the time Mayor Johnny Rosenblatt wanted to turn Omaha into a baseball town. In 1950 the city attracted the 3 year old College World Series; which had previously been played in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1950 attendance was 17,805 for the whole tournament. In 1954 it attracted 35,000 people. The popularity of the event continued to grow. There were some set backs. In 1955 Triple-A baseball returned to Omaha and attendance dropped to 21,000. But the organizers remained determined. In 1962 attendance broke the 50,000 mark for the first time with 52,727 fans attending. In 1964 the city renamed the stadium Rosenblatt Stadium in honor of the Mayor that brought the stadium and baseball to Omaha. On June 24, 1972 the College World Series one-millionth fan entered the turnstiles at Rosenblatt. Just 11 years later the two-millionth fan entered. And on June 15, 2009 Rosenblatt had been home to 7 million CWS fans.
Rosenblatt has also been home to countless MLB stars and legends before they enter the big leagues. It has proved to be the training ground for them and it has also been the public's first chance to see future legends at their best. From Roger Clemens, and Dave Winfield to Nomar Garciapara and Houston Street, a lot of MLB legends have played at Rosenblatt before the big leagues.
In addition to being home to the CWS, Rosenblatt has also been home to the class A affiliates for the Cardinals and Dodgers. But Rosenblatt has been most known, outside of the CWS, for being home to the Triple-A Omaha Royals. After being without professional baseball for 6 years Omaha got the Triple-A Affiliate of the expansion Kansas City Royals.But as Rosenblatt has expanded more and more the ORoyals have felt like unwelcome guests in a park built for the College World Series. Rosenblatt is known not only for being the home of the College World Series, but it also is the largest minor league stadium in the world. The ORoyals are simply outsized in Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt has a capacity of 25,500. But they ORoyals only open 9,000 for most games. And even with a good crowd of 7,000 the stadium still feels empty; because it is! To put this in perspective, in 2009 10 MLB teams had average attendance below Rosenblatt Stadium's capacity of 25,500. (These teams are in order from highest to lowest: San Diego, Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Washington, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Florida, and Oakland.)The people who are benefiting most from Rosenblatt closing are the Omaha Royals. They have been campaigning for years for a new stadium. (The ORoyals even threatened to move if they did not get their stadium.) They deserve better than to feel like a road team in their home stadium. And they deserve their new 7,000 seat stadium.
In February of 2008 the City unveiled plans to build a new 24,000 seat stadium in downtown Omaha. The announcement was hardly a surprise to me. Growing up with cousins who live in Omaha and living just two hours away myself, I had been hearing things for about 2 years before the announcement was made. But it still made me sick to my stomach. How could they do that? How and why could they do it?
Well, first of all let me say why Rosenblatt wasn't simply renovated. The NCAA had been threatening to move the College World Series if the facility was not updated or if a new stadium was not built. The City of Omaha estimated that it would cost around $128 million to build a new stadium and $78 million to renovate Rosenblatt. Either way the public cost would be about $59 million, but it would be a lot easier to secure private funding by building a new stadium. The contract with the NCAA was supposed to end in 2006, but was extended to 2010. As part of that, promises were made to upgrade Rosenblatt Stadium. It is an old structure with cramped concourses, and few fan amenities. Also, plans to renovate were eliminated because the College World Series and Omaha Royals would have to be displaced for one year; along with tearing down homes in the neighborhood.
So with that Rosenblatt was put on life support. She was now on death row. In recent years many of our favorite stadiums have been torn down and given way to newer fancier stadiums. Among these are: Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium, Comiskee Park, even Crosley Field and Forbes Field. Each one was torn down for a variety of reasons. (One of the biggest reasons Tiger Stadium and Crosley Field were torn down is because they were in terrible neighborhoods.) But the biggest reason of all that they were torn down is, unfortunately, money. (I'm afraid that in this world nothing is safe when millions of dollars can be made on one event.)
These new stadiums all have the suits, luxury boxes, fancy seats, and moats for the rich people. They all have the kids play area in the outfield, LED ribbons around the upper deck, new seats, bigger concourses, more bathrooms, and nice new white concrete to show their age. But they don't have one thing, and that is a soul. They are all magnificent and spectacular buildings. But they don't have the heart that the old Stadiums do. They are very nice to go to, but they don't give me goose bumps just from entering like I get at Rosenblatt and Wrigley field. A stadium isn't born with a soul. But one is made for those lucky few special stadiums. A stadium's soul is created by the people that visit and love it. It is made by the great games that are played in it, and they memories that are made while doing it. And then maybe a stadium can even become alive. Maybe it isn't just a piece of concrete, but a living being.
We read about history all of the time. We constantly wish to be witnesses to history, and go back to the old days. And we have Rosenblatt to witness college baseball's history. Why should be just read about Rosenblatt in a textbook when today's generation can see the past with their own 2 eyes? We constantly yearn for those special places that are unlike the others. We want to be in those places that very few are like. So why would we tear one of those places down?
By this time next year, Rosenblatt's baseball field will be nothing more than a parking lot for the Henry Dorly Zoo. Sure, there might be markers where the bases once were, there might even be an outline of the field, but there will be no more field. There will be no stands, no blue paint, no structure at all, and even though a baseball field has been there for 62 years; there will be no sign of it at all. There will be no trace of all of the memories made, all of the fans, all of the greatness that happened in that one spot. It will all be erased and it will be as if it never happened.
As much as I wish something could save Rosenblatt from becoming the latest stadium to fall to the dollar, nothing will save it. So I will say this. It is hard to see it now, but one day Wrigley Field and Fenway Park will have to be replaced. They too will have to be replaced eventually. But what if some of the stadiums of today's era become the Wrigley Fields and Fenway Parks of tomorrow? It is possible that these modern beasts can also one day become a symbol of a simpler time. And I can only hope for that.
Phil Joens is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.