Stadium View Sportscards at heart of CWS
If you ask them why, they rarely mention baseball. They talk about the atmosphere, from the organ music and smoke that wafts through the rafters of Rosenblatt to the cold ice cream and even colder beverages along 13th Street, the main thoroughfare that borders the third-base side of The Blatt.
Ryan McGee for ESPN.comStadium View is one of the staples of Omaha and the CWS.
The heart of 13th Street is Stadium View Sportscards, a red, white and blue house directly across the crosswalk from the stadium's main entrance (watch your step crossing the street; that's where police patrol on horseback). For nearly 20 years, fans have spent their between-game time ducking into the old store to buy souvenirs, check out the old-school College World Series memorabilia and enjoy a free beer.
Seriously. They've given away more than 30,000 of them since 1992.
Hanging out behind the counter is Greg Pivovar, owner of the store and a local attorney. As fans file through and grab a can of suds, he sips on a brew himself, carefully concealed in a CWS souvenir cup. He smiles, shakes hands with longtime return customers and welcomes new ones like he's known them forever.
In the past, the Stadium View regulars didn't have to walk to the back of the room to find the man they call "Piv." He either came blowing out of the back room to greet them or was standing out on the front step, working the curb with handshakes and a sharp running commentary.
But this year, Piv is bouncing back from a bout with throat cancer. A spring filled with chemo and surgery has sucked some of the trademark spring from his step, but missing the Series was never an option, not even as he heads into post-cancer radiation. His friends say the goal of getting well in time for the Series was exactly the kind of target Piv needed to focus on to keep his spirits high through the tough time.
"Yeah, I wear out a little quicker than normal," Piv said as he wrapped a can of free beer with a paper towel and handed it off. "But I wouldn't miss this. People would have come and gotten me and dragged me out here if I'd stayed home. The good news is that I'm cancer-free and feel great."
When the CWS comes back next year for its final go-round at Rosenblatt Stadium, Piv's people are anticipating Stadium View will be the epicenter of what is expected to be the goodbye celebration to end all goodbye celebrations. Two of this year's hottest sellers have been frame-ready photos of the store and T-shirts proclaiming "Two more years of college baseball, free beer and great memories."
"I want to have everyone who has ever been here to stop by and sign their name on the walls of the building. And we'll figure out some other stuff to do, too. Already this year, it's become pretty emotional for everyone here around the ballpark."
After all, the stadium itself will be only a small part of what fans will miss at the new downtown TD Ameritrade Stadium in 2011.
The void that will be hardest to fill will be the one currently occupied by the 13th Street neighborhood. And to so many, the beating heart of that neighborhood is Stadium View Sportscards.
Ryan McGee is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "The Road To Omaha: Hits, Hopes and History at the College World Series," which chronicles the excitement and passion of the CWS, is now available.