Rosenblatt Remembered

Rosenblatt Stadium, college baseball’s great cathedral, will host the College World Series for the final time in 2010. After 61 years in Rosenblatt, the CWS will move downtown to a brand-new $140 million TD Ameritrade Park Omaha starting in 2011. As a tribute to Rosenblatt, we used Baseball America’s archives and spoke with some great CWS figures to collect some of the stories that will make up the stadium’s rich history.

1950: Untouchable Ehrler

The College World Series arrived in Omaha in 1950, as did the first CWS no-hitter. Texas’ No. 3 pitcher, righthander Jim Ehrler, no-hit Tufts (Mass.) 7-0 on June 19.

A fastball pitcher, Ehrler struck out 14 and walked five against the Jumbos. He came back in the championship game and threw seven scoreless innings to defeat Washington State, but it’s the no-hitter for which he’s best remembered.

“I don’t remember anything being close to a hit,” Ehrler told BA in 1996. “We didn’t play many night games back then and I think it definitely gave me an edge.”

The only pitcher to match Ehrler has been Oklahoma State righthander Jim Wixson, who no-hit North Carolina 7-0 on June 15, 1960.

Jerry Kindall: The Only CWS Cycle

Only one player has hit for the cycle in a College World Series game, and only one man has both played for and coached a championship team. Jerry Kindall is both of those men. Kindall, who played nine years in the major leagues, starred at shortstop for Minnesota in 1955 and ’56. He hit 18 home runs in ’56 to establish a school record that still stands and led the Golden Gophers to their first national title. In the third round of the CWS, Kindall had a single, double, triple and homer as Minnesota routed Mississippi 13-5.

Kindall also won three national titles as a coach at Arizona—in 1976, ’80 and ’86. Needless to say, he remembers Rosenblatt fondly.

“My first time there was 1956, with Dick Seibert’s first College World Series team,” Kindall says. “I came from St. Paul, where we had an old but nice park, but Rosenblatt still looked like Yankee Stadium to me even back then, because it was the College World Series. The people of Omaha welcomed us with a real enthusiasm that we all appreciated, and that’s what made the biggest impression. Three years later I was back at Rosenblatt when I was in the minor leagues, playing against Bob Gibson, and I remember thinking, ‘These lights must not be as good as they used to be!’

“There were only 5,000 to 7,000 people there but it seemed major league to us (in ’56). Omaha was the promised land, even back then, for college baseball. It’s a magic place to the players and anyone else who’s been there.”

Brent Strom: A Start Of A Dynasty

Brent Strom won two national titles for Rod Deadeaux’s Southern California dynasty, in 1968 and ’70—the latter to kick off USC’s record streak of five straight championships. He was the third overall pick in the 1970 draft and went on to make 100 big league appearances. He currently serves as the Cardinals’ minor league pitching coordinator.

“I won the championship game for us in 1968 against Southern Illinois and pitched for us in ’70,” Strom says. “We didn’t get there in 1969 because we couldn’t beat UCLA and Chris Chambliss. What always stands out for me is how (Southern California coach) Rod Dedeaux would prepare us to win, would make us believe in ourselves so that we could win. I also remember he would take us to Boys Town to let us know how lucky we are. It was a far cry from other road trips, where we’d play the game and then Dedeaux would take us out to a bar afterward . . .

“One thing I remember is that coach Dedeaux had a great relationship with the Dodgers, so they would provide us with some scouting reports. Before the 1970 Series we were going over the other teams, and we were getting ready to play Ohio. Coach Dedeaux said the guy to watch on their team was their three-hole hitter. ‘Big 6-3 righthanded hitter, some power, will chase breaking balls out of the zone.’ But then he looked at us and said, ‘You know he can’t be that great because he’s not a Trojan!’ And of course it was Mike Schmidt.”

1965-66: Arlin Dominates

In 1996, Baseball America asked Steve Arlin to describe himself as a pitcher. “The best there was,” he answered. When it comes to the College World Series, that’s true.

Arlin led Ohio State to Omaha in 1965 and ’66, his only two seasons with the Buckeyes before beginning a pro career that included six years in the majors. Ohio State faced elimination when it met Washington State in a fourth-round game on June 10, 1965. Making his third start in four days, Arlin pitched a 15-inning, 1-0 shutout and struck out a CWS-record 20, including the side in the bottom of the 15th. Arizona State later beat the Buckeyes in the final.

Ohio State won the championship the next year, with Arlin being named the tournament MVP. He pitched in five of the Buckeyes’ six CWS games and twice defeated No. 1 Southern California, including a 1-0 two-hitter in the semifinals. In 21 innings, he allowed two runs and fanned 28.

“I just never thought I was going to lose,” Arlin said. “Those extra-inning games, I just kept going and going. Nobody was a better competitor than I was.”

Eddie Bane: Atmosphere Makes The Difference

Inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, Eddie Bane went 40-4, 1.64 over his three-year career at Arizona State from 1971-73. He helped lead the Sun Devils to the College World Series in ’72 and ’73, where they lost to Rod Dedeaux’s Southern California juggernaut in the championships both years. Bane now serves as the Angels’ scouting director.

“I remember a pitchers duel with Oklahoma (in 1972) where we won 1-0 and I had like 17 strikeouts,” Bane recalls. “Not much run support. But OU had a big, strong hitter named, believe it or not, Bobby Jack, and he hit a ball pretty good to left-center, and our outfielder caught it on the warning track. That was the most stressful moment of the game.

“My memories of Omaha are the people you meet when you go and take BP across the border in Iowa at some local high school. I have met men 25-30 years after the fact that were the little kids shagging for us at the Iowa high school field. The town really embraces the event.

“I do remember going back to Omaha as a pro and telling all my teammates about how great Omaha was and when the CWS is not in town then Rosenblatt was just another minor league ballpark. The atmosphere made all the difference.”

1973: Dave Winfield vs. USC

The most famous game in College World Series history was Southern California’s amazing comeback against Dave Winfield and Minnesota in 1973.

Winfield, a Hall of Famer as a big league outfielder, was better known as a pitcher in college. In the Golden Gophers’ 1973 CWS opener, he struck out 14 and beat Oklahoma 1-0 with a six-hitter. In the semifinals, he faced three-time defending champion USC in what would be his final game as a pitcher.

Future major leaguers Rich Dauer, Fred Lynn and Roy Smalley led a Trojans lineup that set an NCAA record with 62 home runs in the final year wood bats were used in college baseball. And Winfield simply toyed with them. Through eight innings he allowed just an infield single and struck out 15 as Minnesota took a 7-0 lead.

“In my whole career, even facing the big boys in the majors, I have never seen anything like that,” Dauer told BA in 1996. “When Dave let go of the ball, it was three feet in front of your face and it seemed like it was going 110 miles an hour.”

Trojans pinch-hitter Ken Huizenga led off the ninth with a single, and then came the turning point. Creighton Tevlin nearly grounded into a double play, but barely beat the relay to first. Gophers coach Dick Siebert protested so much that he was ejected.

Dauer followed with a single, and Lynn hit a grounder off first baseman Chris Brown’s glove for a three-base error that scored two runs. When Ed Bowman singled to drive in Lynn, Winfield left the mound and went to left field.

Southern Cal scored twice more off Bob Turnbull, so Seibert sent assistant coach George Thomas to ask Winfield to pitch again. A spent Winfield said he would if Thomas wanted, but he thought another pitcher could do a better job. In came Gordon Peterson, and the Trojans scored twice more to win 8-7.

“I have played in a lot of memorable big games during my career,” Winfield said in ’96. “World Series games, league championship games, All-Star Games, all kinds. But I will never forget that game against USC. Never.”

Augie Garrido: It’s The Field Of Dreams

Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in college baseball history, is most identified with Rosenblatt Stadium for his 13 College World Series trips and five national titles as the head coach at Cal State Fullerton and Texas. But Garrido’s history in Rosenblatt actually stretches back 51 years—to his playing days.

“Well the first thing that comes to my mind, you realize—I played in that World Series in 1959, believe it or not,” Garrido says. “I was at Fresno State and I was playing left field. There were three teams with one loss, and in those days what they did is they flipped a coin to see who got the bye. Arizona won the flip and got the bye, and we played Oklahoma State in the semifinal game. The score was 0-0 in the seventh inning with runners on first and second, and I picked the ball up in left field and I demonstrated a great throwing arm—that was the good news. The bad news was the ball went halfway up the screen, and one run scored, another runner was on third, and the hitter was on second. They got another hit, and we lost the game, and I went from starting in left field to bullpen catcher the next day. I knew that I had lost that game for our school. I sat on the curb outside the yellow school bus they took us around on, crying my eyes out because I knew I lost us that game. Twenty years later when we won with Fullerton, I jumped over the curb and said, ‘I gotcha.’ That’s a true story. It can motivate you when you fail, because I remembered that 20 years later. Omaha and the College World Series was one of the most significant things in my life. Augie Garrido wouldn’t be Augie Garrido without Rosenblatt.”

Garrido, a close friend of actor Kevin Costner, invokes the revered Costner film “Field of Dreams” when describing what makes Rosenblatt special.

“I think the tradition, just the ghosts, the field of dreams, the ghosts of players past as they meet up with players present—just the history of it all,” he says. “I think just the tradition of Rosenblatt and where it fits, is like Yankee Stadium to a different industry. It’s one of those—it’s an Ebbets Field, a Wrigley Field, a Fenway, a Yankee Stadium. To college baseball it’s the most significant stadium in the country. It has been an important part of more people’s lives than anyone can imagine.”

1982: The Grand Illusion

No single play did more to bring national exposure to the College World Series than The Grand Illusion.

Miami assistants Skip Bertman and Dave Scott were scouting the Florida junior college championships in 1982 when they saw West Palm Beach CC pull a phantom pickoff play. During a workout a month later at the CWS, Bertman decided to have some fun.

“We put the play in as a relaxer,” Bertman, who went on to win five national titles as the head coach at Louisiana State, told Baseball America in 1996. “It was just a humorous thing. We had no intention of using it. The kids had a blast with it. They thought it was funny.”

Miami’s opponent the next day was Wichita State, which was on its way to an NCAA record 333 stolen bases. Bertman set four conditions to use the play: a Shockers player had to be coaching first base; one of their top basestealers had to be on base; it had to be dusk; and the runner had to dive back on the first pickoff move.

Lo and behold, all four criteria were met with the Hurricanes clinging to a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. All-American Phil Stephenson, who set an NCAA mark with 87 steals that season, dove back to first on pitcher Mike Kasprzak’s (pictured) pickoff move. Kasprzak looked to the dugout, where Bertman stuck his finger in his ear, the pre-arranged signal.

After throwing a strike, Kasprzak took his foot off the rubber and seemingly fired a throw to first. First baseman Steve Lusby dove over a prone Stephenson. Second baseman Mitch Seaone and right fielder Mickey Williams frantically dashed toward the right-field bullpen, where pitchers Dan Smith and Bob Walker and Hurricanes bat girls pretended to elude the ball.

Even the fans were fooled. Spectators in the right-field bleachers stood to look for the ball as players in the Miami dugout pointed to where the ball seemed to be.

When Stephenson took off for second, Kasprzak took the ball from his glove and threw it to shortstop Billy Wrona. A sheepish Stephenson was tagged out to kill the rally. The Hurricanes made their 4-3 lead hold up to win the game.

The play made it onto ESPN and local sportscasts across the country, as well as nationally syndicated shows such as “This Week In Baseball.”

The play so spooked the opposition that when Hurricanes pitcher Rob Souza really did throw a pickoff attempt into center field against Maine, the runner stayed put. The Black Bears were convinced that Souza had tossed the rosin bag.

In the championship game, Wichita State stole only one base in a 9-3 loss to the Hurricanes.

“The thing that play did for college baseball was make it notable,” Bertman said. “Everybody knew about the play. When I went to LSU in 1984, the first group I spoke to, I heard one guy say, ‘What we need is a coach who can run that pickoff play.’ He had no idea who I was, of course.”

Brian O’Connor: A Lifetime Of Omaha Trips

Not only has Brian O’Connor played in the College World Series (with Creighton in 1991) and coached there (with Virginia last year), but the Omaha native also grew up going to CWS games at Rosenblatt Stadium with his family.

“For me, what makes Rosenblatt special is how everybody in the community rallies around it and makes it a great event,” O’Connor says. “It’s the involvement around Rosenblatt Stadium, all the homes around there, all the tailgating, all the people that just wrap their arms around this great event. It just makes it a great experience for the teams that come in there. When you talk to players that reflect back on their teams that played their 20 or 30 years ago, those are some of their favorite memories as players. As a youngster growing up, going to games every year with my father, just the ability to get autographs from the players—you know, you idolized the teams that would come to Omaha and play in that stadium. Just the evolution of Rosenblatt over the years—the increased seating, the increased amenities, the history there—I think is unique to college athletics. In no other sport is there a championship that’s held in the same venue every year.”

When hometown Creighton made its only CWS appearance in 1991, O’Connor had the opportunity to experience Rosenblatt at a fever pitch. Not surprisingly, the 1991 Series is O’Connor’s favorite Rosenblatt memory.

“Having the unique experience that very few people have of being the hometown team and being a part of the team to play there in that city—for me personally to have the opportunity to pitch in that stadium where, you know, you grew up in that city and all your friends and family are there cheering you on, that’s my most memorable moment,” he says. “It was the largest crowd in the history of the event. There was never a greater demand for tickets. The 3-2 game we lost to Wichita, that unfortunately I was the losing pitcher in, was called at the time the greatest game in the history of the College World Series. It was Tyler Green matched up against Alan Benes.

“The amazing thing about that game is we were 0-6 that year going into the College World Series against Wichita State, and they beat us twice in the College World Series, so we were 0-8 against Wichita that year. It was an unbelievable game—the atmosphere was electric. It was a sea of blue in the entire stadium. It was a nail-biter that went into extra innings.

“Unfortunately for us they found a way to scratch across a run—if I was a foot taller, we may still be playing. Even though I was the losing pitcher, it will be something I’ll never forget.”

And CWS visitors will never forget O’Connor’s face. Omaha artist John Lajba was commissioned to create a sculpture commemorating the 50th anniversary of the CWS in 1999. He went to visit a friend’s office and noticed a photograph on the desk of the friend’s son dressed in a Creighton baseball uniform. The expression on the player’s face inspired Lajba, so when he created the Road to Omaha statue featuring four players celebrating, he based one of the player’s faces on the Creighton player. That player was O’Connor.

The Road to Omaha statue sits outside the front gate to Rosenblatt Stadium and is expected to move to TD Ameritrade Park in 2011.

“Rosenblatt’s been a part of that city for 60 years now,” O’Connor says. “It’s meant so much to the people of that city and those people that live right around it. Fifty years from now, people will be talking about the tradition that was built in TD Ameritrade Ballpark.”

1987: Stanford Stops The Streak

Robin Ventura might have garnered even more attention for college baseball than The Grand Illusion did. The Oklahoma State third baseman carried an NCAA-record 56-game hitting streak into the 1987 CWS, drawing comparisons to Joe DiMaggio and focusing national interest on Omaha.

Ventura extended the streak to 58 before meeting Stanford and two future major league pitchers in a June 4 game. Jack McDowell retired him on three fly balls and a lineout to third base before a two-out single in the ninth gave Ventura a final chance against reliever Al Osuna.

Ventura hit a sharp grounder that was bobbled twice by second baseman Frank Carey, who then threw the ball away as Ventura reached second. Many thought the play should have been scored an infield hit and a throwing error, but official scorer Lou Spry called it a two-base error. Ventura agreed.

“The way I saw it, I thought it might have been two errors,” Ventura told BA in 1987. “He (McDowell) had me swinging at some bad pitches. That’s what good pitchers do.

“When I go back in my room, I won’t have a rope in my room.”

Oklahoma State won 6-2 but lost a championship-game rematch with McDowell 9-5 three days later. Ventura and McDowell later were Chicago White Sox teammates for five seasons, giving them plenty of time to relive their famous CWS meeting.

Warren Morris: The Home Run

Warren Morris will forever be linked to Rosenblatt Stadium. In 1996, he delivered the most indelible, unforgettable moment in College World Series history, hitting the only championship-winning walk-off home run in the history of the CWS.

Louisiana State trailed Miami 8-7 with two outs and a runner on base in the bottom of the ninth inning of the title game, and Morris stepped to the plate as the Tigers’ last hope. He deposited Hurricanes reliever Robbie Morrison’s first pitch just inches over the right-field fence to propel LSU to its third championship in six years. Morris’ heroics were all the more dramatic because of their improbability.

“I think people are surprised, but it was as much a shock to me as anybody,” Morris recalls nearly 14 years later. “Hitting a home run was the last thing on my mind—I hadn’t hit one all year. I had been injured (with a broken wrist). I came up in the No. 9 spot, and I was just hoping to get on base. It’s still weird to see the replays, running around the bases. You think, ‘Man, who is that guy?’ It’s almost like an out-of-body experience, running around the bases. It’s like a little kid, out there with a stick and a rock, you always put yourself up with two outs, bottom of the ninth, and you’re the hero.

“Even when it happened, I didn’t think that 13, 14 years later, people would still be talking about it. You wouldn’t believe—I bet not a week goes by without people telling me, ‘This is where I was, this is what I was doing, this is what living room I was in, what ceiling fan I hit.’ I grew up watching the old replays on ESPN when they would show the College World Series the next morning, and I grew up always wanting to be part of that. To be a memory of that is surreal.”

Morris was drafted by the Pirates in the fifth round that June, and he went on to a 10-year professional career that included 401 big league games over five years. He retired in 2005 and now works in banking in his hometown of Alexandria, La.—but he’ll never forget his first trip to Rosenblatt in 1994, or his subsequent visits.

“It looked larger than life on TV, then you step in there and you think, ‘Hey, I guess that fence isn’t as far back as I thought.’ It’s just kind of up close and personal,” Morris says. “It’s like the first time I ever played in Wrigley—it looks different but it’s really the same. It becomes personal.

“(Playing for LSU in Omaha is) the closest thing to being treated like a big leaguer. You feel like a rock star, because you’re the main attraction in the bleachers, you feel like it’s a home game—there are so many LSU fans there. The locals have adopted LSU. The Cajun folks, they’re very animated and enthusiastic, and the locals took hold of that.

“In contrast, I got the opportunity in minor league baseball to play there in Triple-A, and it’s just a whole different story. At LSU, you play there in front of 25, 26,000 people per game, but going back there in the minor leagues, it’s like 3 or 4,000. But there’s something special about that stadium. Even playing there in the minors, I always seemed to have good games there. Maybe there’s just something special about Omaha.”

2002: Street’s Got Soul

While Texas righthander Alan Bomer won two of his first three starts to open the 2002 season, coach Augie Garrido and pitching coach Frank Anderson decided to try Bomer as the closer. After he blew a 6-1 lead at Stanford in late March, Anderson gave freshman righty Huston Street some adjustments and a try at the role.

“We changed his arm angle because everything was coming back at him harder than he threw it,” Anderson told BA in 2002. “He had good stuff, but it wasn’t moving enough. We lowered his arm and his stuff started moving. You combine that with the fact he’s competed all his life, and all that comes from (his heart).”

Street’s father James set the bar high for his son. He was an all-conference pitcher for Texas in the late 1960s, sharing top billing on the staff with future big leaguer Burt Hooton. But he earned more notoriety for leading the Longhorns to a 1970 Cotton Bowl victory that clinched a football national championship.

Street’s quarterback qualities drew as many comparisons to his dad as his low-90s fastball and wicked slider.

“I could tell this guy was a leader from the beginning,” senior outfielder Chris Carmichael said. “He was out there leading, pumping guys up, getting in guys’ faces from the start of fall practice. He’s the heart and soul of this team.”

Street became the first player to save four games in one CWS and got the last five outs in the ’02 championship game, including the biggest one. He struck out South Carolina slugger Yaron Peters, who led the Southeastern Conference in home runs and RBIs, when he was the tying run in the eighth inning.

Mitch Canham: A Local Favorite

When local favorite Louisiana State was going through a rebuilding phase in the middle of the last decade, the upstart Oregon State Beavers became the darlings of Omaha. Mitch Canham was the catcher for the Beavers teams that broke a 53-year CWS drought with three straight Omaha trips from 2005-’07.

“It’s just a home away from home,” Canham says of Rosenblatt. “That place is big-time excitement—just the atmosphere. It’s up on the hill. It’s kind of funny, you start thinking about how, ‘This is the peak of my college career,’ and sure enough it’s sitting on top of a mountain, you’ve got to climb to get there. Everyone comes there for that one big thing, and it makes it more spectacular.”

After going two-and-out in the 2005 Series, the Beavers lost 11-1 in their CWS opener the following year, then made a remarkable run through the loser’s bracket before stunning well-rested North Carolina in a memorable Finals. The following year, they stumbled to a No. 3 regional seed but caught fire in the postseason and cruised to a second straight national title.

“My favorite memory of Rosenblatt—personally, I like picking the dude up at the end of the game and throwing him on the ground so he can’t breathe,” Canham says. “That’s my favorite. There’s nothing like a dogpile—I haven’t done it since then, and it’s the ultimate joy. When you get to dogpile at the end, there’s no more worries, nothing else to sweat about, you can soak it all in. It all hits you at once; it’s very emotional. It overwhelmed me. There’s a lot of people in the world, and me and my teammates got to be a very select few that got to go do something like that on that stage. People always ask me about what it was like, and it never really gets old.”

Count Canham among those most disappointed by the end of the Rosenblatt era.

“It sucks that they’re changing locations, because a big part of baseball is all the tradition,” he says. “It feels like they’re taking something away from it, so it’s a bummer. But it was definitely an honor to play there. We had always talked about, 20 years from now when we’re all done playing, I can’t want until we can all go back and sit in Rosenblatt and watch College World Series games. Now I guess we’ll have to go to some other venue. The atmosphere for the CWS is always going to be good, but that stadium made it that much more special.”