OMAHA, Neb. — The old park is a dilapidated version of its once illustrious self now.
Rosenblatt Stadium, the proud home of the College World Series from 1950-2010, has been gutted. The grandstand seats are gone, sold off to souvenir collectors. The scoreboard already has relocated to another ballpark. The dugouts are stripped. The lush green grass faded to brown and the turf is now overgrown by weeds.
While the 2012 College World Series is rolling on this week in TD Ameritrade Park, its pristine new home in downtown Omaha, the old stadium on the south end of town is entering its final days.
Rosenblatt, which is now owned by the Omaha Zoo Foundation, will be demolished in July in the name of expansion. But don’t grumble at the zoo. Rosenblatt’s fate practically became a foregone conclusion when the CWS moved up the road.
They understand what the stadium, which was named after former Omaha mayor Johnny Rosenblatt, has meant to the city and the college game, too. That’s why the chain link fence surrounding the park was unlocked and the outfield door opened to the public for a five-day viewing period.
Calvin Sisson, who is the executive director of the foundation, told the Omaha World-Leader it was a “gift back to the baseball community” and admittedly had no idea how many would take them up on the offer. If a 30-minute stroll around the stadium was any indication Sunday, it must have been an overwhelming turnout for all involved.
The scene included: Dads playing catch with their sons for what will be long-lasting Father’s Day memories. Children laughing as they ran around the bases, which are still in place. Families waiting in line to pose for pictures in the third base dugout and in front of what’s left of the left field scoreboard. Others on hands and knees, shoveling dirt from the pitcher’s mound and home plate area into small containers.
They wore Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Florida State and UCLA shirts. Some had no affiliations to teams playing in the College World Series — like a man wearing a North Carolina hat or one wearing an Omaha Royals jersey — but wanted to soak in the scene, too.
The Razorbacks aren’t leaving a long and storied championship tradition in the stadium behind like multiple national title winners Arizona, LSU, Miami, Southern California or Arizona State. But anyone who played here, coached here, or cheered here will always have memories. Good ones.
Outfielder Brett Eibner won’t forget his ninth-inning blast against Virginia in 2009, a shot that landed in the seats just left of the big scoreboard to help extend Arkansas’ season for at least one more game. Former Arkansas coach Norm DeBriyn brought his teams to Rosenblatt four times during an impressive 11-year span (1979, 1985, 1987 an 1989). Dave Van Horn did it twice, too, guiding the Razorbacks to Omaha in 2004 and 2009 before this year’s trip in the new ballpark.
Van Horn — part of five teams which played in Rosenblatt — said earlier this week he hoped to find time to stroll around the place one final time before the gates closed. The sentiment has been echoed by many others in the college game.
“I was sad to see Rosenblatt go because all the times I came here as a little kid was at Rosenblatt watching Cal State Fullerton,” said Arkansas first baseman Dominic Ficociello, a Fullerton, Calif., native.
“It was a fun time. I couldn’t wait to get an opportunity to hopefully come here and play.”
The doors officially shut on college baseball’s grand cathedral a little after 2 p.m. Monday.
There was no big ceremony. The last remaining fans were informed the final four-hour viewing block was coming to an end. There were a few final snapshots, pitches from the mound and laps around the bases. The final group stepped out of the stadium a few minutes later, then an employee shut, closed and locked the chain-link fence.
The demolition of the old ballpark will begin in a matter of weeks now. But the men, women and children who showed up for one final look at the place is proof Rosenblatt’s memory will live on even though the CWS has a new home.
Robbie Neiswanger is a Fayetteville-based sportswriter who leads Razorback coverage in all sports for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. His e-mail is email@example.com