Building a new baseball tradition in Omaha

TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha

The debate will continue: Certain Omaha residents will never accept that the NCAA Division 1 College World Series is no longer held each June at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha. But if last weekend’s start to the World Series is any indication, Rosenblatt’s replacement, TD Ameritrade Park, is a more than worthy successor.

I was in Omaha last week as part of the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership’s SELECTtour. I was also fortunate enough to take in the opening contest of this year’s College World Series at the new TD Ameritrade Park located smack in the middle of downtown Omaha. This was an historic event, the first College World Series game to be played at the new stadium.

There were concerns: Some wondered whether the tailgating tradition that was so strong at Rosenblatt would be equally as strong at TD Ameritrade. Others wondered if the festive atmosphere that surrounded the World Series at Rosenblatt would transfer to Omaha’s downtown.

Well, it’s time to put those concerns to rest: Tailgaters came out in force before the start of the opening contest between North Carolina and Vanderbilt (Vandy won, by the way). In fact, the parking lots around TD Ameritrade started filling up with fans before 10 a.m., pretty impressive considering that the actual game didn’t start until 1 p.m.

The atmosphere inside the park was festive, too. Yes, there were a few Rosenblatt t-shirts among the crowds. But few people seemed to regret the new facility with its greater number of concession stands and restrooms.

The scene before the night of the opening game was festive, too. I walked around the neighborhoods and came across packed sports bars, busy restaurants and live bands playing outside. And there were tons of families, too, all trailing Little Leaguers, many of them still in full uniform.

Change is often hard, as the die-hard supporters of Rosenblatt prove. But in this particular case, change is a positive. Two decades from now, we’ll be looking back at TD Ameritrade Park as having its own storied history, one certain to rival that of Rosenblatt’s.

— Dan Rafter

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