Thousands of fans lined up Tuesday in heat pushing 100 degrees several hours before Game Two of the CWS Finals.
By Kirk Kenney
OMAHA—It was blazing like a Stephen Strasburg fastball here three hours before Louisiana State and Texas were set to take the field Tuesday for Game Two of the CWS Finals.
Leaving our hotel about eight miles northwest of the ballpark, we turned left at Dodge and 90th streets and drove past four businesses with signs flashing the temperature—95, 96 and 99 were the readings for three of them. The Bank of the West topped them all at 102 degrees.
As we made our way to the ballpark, my thoughts immediately turned to the fans who sit in general admission. I could see them lined up as we made our way down 10th Street before turning into the Rosenblatt Stadium parking lot. Since no seats are guaranteed, GA fans line up several hours before the game to ensure themselves a seat in the bleachers.
The fans are corralled like cattle, although they need no prodding to move forward through this chute. As the clocked ticked toward 4 p.m. (when the gates open), they began to get impatient.
Only one security guard was stationed in front of the line to hold them back. The fans surged forward at one point. I was waiting for the security guard to be overrun, kind of like Kevin Bacon was in the parade scene of "Animal House."
Somehow the guard maintained order.
Here’s where it got crazy.
Ten minutes after the gates opened and the fans were allowed in, a cool breeze blew in from the north. In just a few minutes the temperature dropped 20 degrees. When I got inside the ballpark, LSU had just finished batting practice, but the cage was moved before Texas took its turn. The grounds crew was poised with the tarp down the right-field line. They sat/stood there for more than a half hour and waited as a summer storm approached. Sprinkles began to fall one hour before the scheduled first pitch. The crew sprang into action and rolled out the tarp to protect the infield. And we began to wait for it to pass through. The lightning and thunder that accompanied the rain meant our wait would be extended. They are required to wait 30 minutes whenever lightning strikes within a six-mile radius of the ballpark.
Welcome to the Midwest.
It was difficult to imagine a storm would blow through the way things were just an hour before — blue sky and high heat.
"It’s the hottest day in five years, easy," said an off duty fireman who wished to remain anonymous as he surveyed the scene just outside of the left-field bleachers. "It was 90 degrees at 9 a.m. It was still 80 last night, which hasn’t happened in a while.
"We had a mild spring. Summer started Sunday, and it’s hitting us with a bang.
"If you’re not hydrating, you’re in trouble."
At the Omaha Fire & Rescue mobile command center in the northern part of the Rosenblatt parking lot, Barry Spooner, med group supervisor, said some 100 fans were treated on Monday (game time temperature was 93 degrees) for heat-related issues. Before the temperature broke, Spooner said he expected a similar number of fans—or more—to need attention on Tuesday.
"They shouldn’t come if the heat is too much for them," said Spooner, who was in the midst of adding staff, air conditioning units in the first aid area and other supplies because of the heat.
Spooner has served in various roles at Rosenblatt for 22 years, so he knows the drill when the temperature rises.
"There’s been runs of heat (at the CWS) in three digits," he said. "I’m not going to say this is all right. It’s still hot, but it could be worse."
A Texas fan old enough to have been in attendance for the Longhorns’ first title in 1949 was probably wondering how much worse it could get as the heat took its toll on him. The man was wearing Levi’s and a Texas T-shirt soaked with perspiration, and he didn’t look too good as a security guard led him to a stadium entrance. The fan was given a chair and cold water and allowed to wait in the shade until those in his group reached the entrance.
LSU fans began getting in line shortly after sunrise, and they came prepared. Two tents were set up in the line. Several other fans behind them had umbrellas. Virtually everyone in line had water, and they treated it like a precious commodity.
A boy wearing a Longhorns hat asked his friend to pour some water from a bottle over his head, adding "Pour a very, very, very, very little on me."
A group of college-age LSU fans were passing around a gallon jug filled with water when one of them sloshed it around a bit, which brought a scolding from his buddy: "Don’t waste it."
An hour later the storm cell was upon us, the clouds opened up and there was plenty of water for everyone.
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