Image credit: (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
In any normal year, the city of Omaha would be alive right about now with the sights and sounds of the College World Series, but, alas, this is no ordinary year.
There are so many things we miss about not having the CWS in 2020, including legend-making performances, instant classic games and hours upon hours of baseball for two solid weeks.
But it speaks to the type of hold the CWS has on baseball fans that many of the things we miss in a year without it have little or nothing to do with the competition on the field. Rather, it’s many of the things that happen around the event that make it as special as it is.
In this week’s Top 25, we rank the 25 things we’ll miss without a 2020 College World Series.
1. College baseball’s best players excelling on its biggest stage. The CWS is college baseball’s biggest stage and for its best players, it can be a showcase or an introduction for the more casual fan or larger sporting public. Think about what Adley Rutschman and Kumar Rocker did for their profile with their performance in Omaha. It’s a grand stage and watching players take advantage of their opportunity is a treat.
2. Huge opening weekend crowds. The first weekend of play in Omaha always draws huge crowds. Every team is still involved, so no one has gone home yet. Everyone is eager to get to the games because the CWS is back, and because it’s the weekend, it’s easy for locals to get out to the park. Not surprisingly, opening weekend also makes for some of the best atmospheres over the two weeks.
3. Tailgating. Even if you’re not tailgating before games yourself, there’s nothing quite like a stroll through the tailgating lots just outside TD Ameritrade Park. With setups as big as something you’d see at an SEC football game and as small as a few chairs set up underneath a tree, there’s something for everyone’s appetite.
4. The tension of elimination games. Every team is happy to be at the College World Series. It’s a great achievement in and of itself, and it can be the time of your life as a player or coach. But reality can set in very quickly if you find yourself in an elimination game, when you know you’re just one loss away from being back on the plane home, about to say goodbye to the players moving on and starting the process to do it all again next year.
5. Omaha hospitality. The phrase “Nebraska nice” isn’t just a marketing slogan when it comes to the College World Series. The city of Omaha really wraps its arms around the marquee event of the summer, and it shows in how everyone from out of town is treated by those who put on the event and the local fans who welcome in others from all over the country.
6. Cinderella stories. Longtime College World Series fans can rattle off the most famous Cinderellas in CWS history. The 1990 Citadel team. The 1991 Creighton squad that brought Omaha pride to the proceedings. The 2008 national title-winning “Wonderdogs” of Fresno State. Some last just two games and some win it all, but they all get remembered by those who love this event.
7. Father’s Day. Few things are as uniquely American as having a catch or watching baseball with dad, and it just so happens that Father’s Day falls during the College World Series each year. It certainly makes for an easy Father’s Day gift for any baseball-loving dad out there.
8. The Drover. There are many steakhouses in Omaha worth the visit while at the College World Series, but for one reason or another, The Drover has become the go-to spot for many. It was closed due to a fire during last year’s event, but its fans will be ready to return in 2021.
9. Seeing unheralded players rise to the occasion. The All-Americans always come to play in Omaha, but every year there are players who, after being under the radar most of the season, take a star turn in the CWS. Seeing those players get their chance to shine and soak up some of the spotlight is a special part of the tournament.
10. Seeing old friends. The College World Series really is like a reunion of sorts. Friends meet up to attend the event every year. Fans get to know people who work inside the stadium. Coaches and players get attached to the bus drivers, civic organizations and high schools that host their teams. Few things bring such a wide cross-section of people together like the CWS.
11. Browsing the baseball village. It’s not just that the CWS games take place at TD Ameritrade Park this time each year. An entire city, known as Omaha Baseball Village, pops up around the stadium, as vendors big and small pair up with fans from all over looking to bring home a keepsake from their trip to Omaha.
12. The illuminated Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge at night. The area around TD Ameritrade Park provides a wonderful backdrop for baseball. Just beyond the outfield wall is the CHI Health Center, an arena and convention center. A little further back is the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge, which runs over the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa. Walking the bridge is a great side trip while in Omaha, and at night, the bridge lights up to add to the beauty of a night game.
13. Opening ceremonies. Set up something like the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the College World Series opening ceremonies involve a parade of all eight participating teams coming into the stadium. The joy is apparent on the faces of the coaches and players during the parade, especially those who haven’t been to the CWS before.
14. Neutral fans rallying behind the underdog. Many fans arrive at the College World Series to root on a specific team, but there are just as many who are locals or are just general baseball fans who make going to the CWS a tradition. Those fans are always looking for a team to get behind, and most often, it’s the team considered to be the biggest underdog.
15. Frozen treats at Zesto. With a stand located just outside TD Ameritrade Park, Zesto is a great place to stop for ice cream or frozen custard on the sometimes-scorching days during the College World Series. When the event moved from Rosenblatt to downtown—and away from the original Zesto location— there was fear of losing it as a CWS staple, but the business moved with the event to continue serving baseball fans.
16. The tarp coming off the field. The tarp is the last thing anyone wants to see at TD Ameritrade Park. But, unfortunately, it is a part of the CWS. After a rain delay, no matter how long, it’s a beautiful sight when the grounds crew comes out to roll it back up.
17. Marveling at the general admission line. There are few things that signal how big a game is at the CWS than the general admission line. The line always gets fairly long as it gets close to time to open the gates, but for games that involve two teams with massive fan bases, it can seemingly stretch for miles.
18. Visiting Rosenblatt. The old stadium may have given way to TD Ameritrade Park after the 2010 CWS, but you can still pay your respects to the venerable park in its original location just outside of Henry Doorly Zoo. A miniature field, complete with two rows of colorful Rosenblatt bleachers, sits waiting for CWS fans to come by for a visit.
19. Dugout shenanigans. College baseball players love to joke around in the dugout as a rule, but especially when they know the cameras are always watching, and nowhere is the stage bigger for shenanigans than at the CWS.
20. Eating secret menu items. In recent years, concessions at TD Ameritrade Park have included a daily secret menu item that is only announced the day that it will be offered. For everyone who is at the CWS for several days in a row, that variety is nice.
21. Sunsets beyond the stadium. A colorful sunset after a long summer day is a great thing, but it’s made even better by having it take place at the end of a long summer day that featured wall-to-wall baseball.
22. Fans in shirts for a team not in the CWS. Whether it’s fans who bought CWS tickets in the hopes that their team would make it that far or fans of a certain team who just happen to come to the CWS to watch baseball regardless, you always see proudly-worn shirts of several dozen schools not involved in the event. You could actually make a bingo board of various universities and play a bingo game throughout the day once you spot them in the wild.
23. Watching the grounds crew chase down beach balls. Beach balls making their way back and forth through the outfield bleachers is a time-honored tradition at the CWS. At the same time, so is the grounds crew running into the outfield to pick up beach balls that have fallen to the turf to take back to the beach ball graveyard they keep as the days go on.
24. The chase for history. Every player and team that makes it to Omaha has a chance to put their mark on the history books. Watching as legends are made right in front of our eyes makes for a magical two weeks.
25. The dogpile. Every team is there for one thing—to be the team that ends up dogpiling when it’s all said and done. With fireworks and streamers exploding behind them, they’re all beautiful expressions of joy from the just crowned national champions.