Fans Embrace New Home Of CWS

OMAHA—Old habits die hard.

Tom Trede of Treynor, Iowa, has been coming to the College World Series since the early 1970s. And so it was Saturday that Treynor found himself driving by the old ballpark on the hill.

“I went around the block by Rosenblatt Stadium this afternoon,” said Trede. “The gutters were full of—I thought it was water at first but it was tears coming from Rosenblatt Stadium. It was a sad afternoon. It was wondering where everybody’s at.”

They were three miles away, downtown at the new $131 million TD Ameritrade Park for the opening day of the 2011 CWS.

Trede, wearing a burnt orange Longhorns T-shirt and a cowboy hat with horns attached to it, joined the crowd for Saturday evening’s Texas-Florida game. He carried a sign that read: “Old Horns! New Stadium!” as he made his way around the outfield concourse.

“The new place is great,” he said. “It’s just not Rosenblatt. It’s changed. You’ll get used to it. I’ll get used to it. Everybody will.”

Among the upgrades at the new ballpark are more legroom between rows of seats and a wider concourse that circles the ballpark from home plate to the outfield the and back again, giving fans elbow—and breathing—room not afforded at 63-year-old Rosenblatt.

Tailgating was evident, although not nearly as prevalent as in the past, in several parking areas adjacent to the ballpark. Souvenir tents and other booths also were filled with fans 90 minutes before the first game.

There will be an adjustment period for fans, but a sampling of opinions from around the ballpark Saturday were overwhelmingly favorable—tears running downhill on South 13th Street aside.

Rick Noss of Atlanta, who was wearing a Florida shirt, has been to the CWS nearly a dozen times and liked what he saw on this visit.

Said Noss: “I like the open concourses. I like the rest rooms. I think the whole thing is more fan-friendly. I think it’s just going to take time for everyone to get into it. Like the afternoon game (between Vanderbilt and North Carolina), I didn’t think anyone was into (it) like they were before. Tonight (for Texas-Florida), I thought it was more like an old Rosenblatt crowd.”

The stadium DJ was doing his part to get the crowd going as the sun was setting, playing Chicago’s “Saturday In The Park” between one of the innings of the second game.

Fans seemed fine with increased ticket prices. Noss said the reserved seats he purchased were $22, up from $18 the previous year, but he’d hardly given it a thought. Tickets were $28 in the reserved seats down by the third-base dugout, which was no problem for Omaha’s Jim Belgrade, a 30-year season ticket holder. Then, again, his brother had paid for the tickets.

“This place is 10 times better,” Belgrade said. “The food is better, the area where you sit, the concourse, you don’t get smashed all together when it’s 90 degrees . . . The No. 1 thing is the bathrooms are better. The bathrooms were horrible at Rosenblatt."

Andrew Kramer, a 15-year-old from Des Moines who was dressed in a Vanderbilt hat and shirt, gave his approval, saying. “I like it better here. More space. More room.”

That feeling was echoed time and again by fans.

“It’s nice,” said Roy Lilley, a visitor from Williamston, N.C., who watched the Tar Heels from a shaded seat 27 rows up from their third-base dugout. "There’s not a bad seat in the house. More walking room. Better concession areas. More concession areas and easier access.

“It’s a very good experience. The only negative, if there is one, is the hotels downtown this year, they wanted $350 or $400 a night. A little steep.”

So Lilley stayed in a hotel about 10 miles outside of town.

Locals like Omaha’s Bob and Elizabeth Kokrda didn’t have to worry about lodging, which may explain why they were able to spend $13 at The Clubhouse Grill for the Footlong Reuben Sausages they were carrying back to their seats during the Texas-Florida game. The sausages were the most expensive thing on the menu, which otherwise seemed fairly reasonable for ballpark fare.

At the Hot Diggity Dawgs stand, the Spicy Foot Long Dawg was $8, nachos were $3.75 and peanuts were $4. A regular soda to wash it all down was $3 and a souvenir soda was $4.75.

Everywhere you turned someone was walking by with a hot dog or hamburger or chili cheese fries or chicken tenders or cotton candy or soda or ice cream.

In fact, many fans seemed more interested in the food than the game. And while those wide concourses were created to make the area easier to move around, it also seemed to encourage teenagers to mill around like they do at the mall.

“This afternoon I missed the atmosphere (from Rosenblatt),” said Noss, the fan from Atlanta. “But people are just feeling their way around. By the end of this series, and next year, I think it will recoup that atmosphere.”