This was my ninth trip to Omaha, and what a trip it has been. All the old favorites, from the Omaha World-Herald crew to Zesto’s and the Drover, to the same security guards who are here every year, and even the same women who distribute the microphones at the postgame news conference.
And yet there are new favorites. I could get used to Runza being in the ballpark; as Aaron Fitt says, if you like cabbage, you’ll like Runza. And I came to the end of the ’05 Series and missed last year’s event, so this was my first experience with Beaver Nation in Oregon. While as I write this the Sun Devils are attempting to rally, Oregon State was in the process of rolling past Arizona State to its second victory in the tournament.
The last defending national champion to return to Omaha and get off to a 2-0 start is . . . Louisiana State in 1998. In other words, the Beavers are starting to edge from lovable underdog to Big Dog status.
Louisville and UC Irvine are this year’s CWS newbies, and Rice is the other heavy. Funny–the first year I covered college baseball, back in 1997, Rice was the newbie, making its first-ever trip to the CWS. See how things can change?
And then earlier today, we saw one of the all-timers, if you like drama. UC Irvine’s 5-4 win against Cal State Fullerton took too long–not just because it was 5 hours, 40 minutes, but because it was 4 hours old before nine innings were complete. But with the Jedi mind games going on between Fullerton’s George Horton and his padawan learner, Irvine coach Dave Serrano, it was inevitable that the game would have a slower pace.
It was West Coast baseball at its best, and at its most maddening. A four-hour game in the ACC or SEC is almost guaranteed to have one team in double digits, if not both. This game was 4-4, and yet the drama of the game captivated me.
My recent trip to Zesto’s, however, seemed to show me in the minority view, at least according to my informal reconnaissance. I took one last pass around the ballpark and its environs, bought a souvenir or two for the family, and just took some advice from Ron Burgundy: Drink it in.
The best thing about the College World Series? How about the fact that for 10 days in June, in the same place every day, between up to 25,000 people come together around one thing: baseball. Where else does that happen, where baseball is the ONLY story for that long, anywhere in the country?
The street party outside has all kinds of color that frankly I’ve never explored enough. Too often I adopt the mindset that I am here to work, and other than long dinners or trips to the zoo, that’s pretty much what I do.
I guess part of the reason for that is that work is so much fun–covering the games, talking to the coaches and players, talking with peers in the press box. I’ve been a little louder and a little more excited up here this year–I guess absence does make the heart grow fonder. But it’s obvious that for all the years I’ve been coming to Omaha, I’m still a fan at heart, trying to find out how many Jason Lane references I can fit into one day, or how often I can compare someone’s grit and toughness to that of Carlos Quentin, or how frequently I find myself hearkening back during some close game to back when Huston Street came in to shut the door.
But for this year, this is it. I’m getting out of the way for Aaron Fitt to take you home with the best college baseball coverage you can find on the web. Tomorrow morning I go home to family, work and routine.
I was talking to someone today about how I haven’t taken a vacation yet this spring, but now, looking back on the last four days, I realized I’m just finishing one.
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