Let Rosenblatt rest in peace
OMAHA, Neb. -- The ghost of Warren Morris is screaming. I hear him.
Or maybe that's the wind, cold and haunting on a warm day here, as it whips past the seatless concrete benches behind the third-base dugout at Rosenblatt Stadium -- what used to be Rosenblatt Stadium, anyway.
This is no longer Rosenblatt Stadium.
The College World Series opens Friday at TD Ameritrade Park, a beautiful facility three miles north of this site. It debuted there last spring, and in 2010, we all said our tearful goodbyes to Rosenblatt, the old, tradition-rich stadium on the hill in south Omaha.
The shell of Rosenblatt still stands, to be razed next month and transformed into parking lots for the adjacent Henry Doorly Zoo and the Infield at the Zoo, a monument that will serve as a nice tribute to the 61-year home of the CWS and professional baseball in Omaha.
For $250, you can buy a brick and get your name engraved on a wall that sits on the new, synthetic field. It's a complete tax write-off, say the zoo employees parked at a table this week on the shredded warning track in foul territory near what used to be Rosenblatt's left field.
This is not right.
Last year as the CWS raged downtown, local fans and visitors gravitated, by habit, to Rosenblatt. They found the iconic ballpark wrapped in a chain-link fence with signs warning people to stay out. More came than anticipated by zoo officials who purchased the 36 acres of Rosenblatt land from the city.
So the zoo decided this year to reopen the gates. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday through Monday, fans are invited once more to visit the ballpark. Play catch on the field. Snap photos. Sit in the dugout. Relive the wonder.
Florida State's Mike Martin, visiting Omaha as a head coach for the 15th time this week, said he wants to go see the stadium. Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, who turned this place into a red sea as the Nebraska coach in 2001 and 2002 and twice led the Razorbacks to Rosenblatt, said he would like to take his team to visit.
My advice: Don't do it. This is not Rosenblatt.
On Tuesday night, I went as a guest of the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, renamed and rebranded for the southwest Omaha suburbs and their shiny, new, 9,000-capacity Werner Park.
The Storm Chasers held a cookout for season-ticket holders. I took my glove. Tossed the ball for 20 minutes in center field, where Willie Mays roamed in two exhibition games five decades ago.
I expected it to look bad. It was worse. The grass, once so finely manicured, is gone, replaced by brown weeds, burn spots and the occasional green sprout. Ditches and divots cover the surface.
Seats ripped from the benches lay strewn in the stands. Most of the signage is gone. A fence leans sideways outside the left-field gate. A Dumpster sits under the bleachers.
Enough. Why are they doing this, to sell bricks? Because it's sure not conjuring any great memories.
It's like saying farewell to a beloved friend at a funeral, coming to grips with the loss, then getting called back two years later to exhume the corpse for one more glance.
As I remember Rosenblatt, it's full of every color imaginable, wonderful smells, sweat and snow cones, kids and their parents, visitors from every corner of the country and college players, exerting more energy and emotion than at any other moment in their lives.
I started visiting Rosenblatt regularly in the '80s, when Stanford and Texas and Wichita State ruled the CWS. I covered my first series as an intern at the Omaha World-Herald in 1996 and stood on the steps behind the home plate gate when Morris, the legendary LSU second baseman, yanked his first home run of the year on the last pitch of the college season to crush Miami.
Before that, I helped serve as bat boy a dozen or so times for the Omaha Royals, filling in when their regular dugout gopher, a good friend, needed assistance. I was there on a September night in 1990 when the Royals won the Triple-A Classic over the Rochester Red Wings.
And I was back on Tuesday, staring at a sorry patch of weeds and an infield lined with a last set of chalk lines. One word to describe the whole thing: morbid.
I know, as a parent, how memories work. The special moments live. Time allows you to forget the sleepless nights and the temper tantrums.
It's no different with old baseball stadiums. We remember what made Rosenblatt so great, the place visited by George Brett and George Bush, where Bo Jackson and Greg Maddux played, and where Rod Dedeaux and Augie Garrido coached. And we forget all that made them close the doors.
Most of all, we forget how it looks in its final hours. This is not Rosenblatt. I don't need to see it now. No one does.