The concern that many longtime College World Series (CWS) fans had about TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. before they ever stepped foot inside was that it would be too corporate -- the environment would be too sterile.
Their concerns were understandable.
After 60 years of history at Rosenblatt Stadium -- a stadium named after Johnny Rosenblatt, the late city council member and mayor who was instrumental in seeing that Omaha had a Triple-A baseball team -- even the thought of naming the new venue after a corporation seemed distasteful.
Throw in rich Rosenblatt traditions like Dingerville, a thriving 13th Street environment, fans sitting in the same seats every year that lead to renewed friendships, tailgating in close-knit quarters and you have a sporting experience that is difficult to recreate, no matter how much fans are enjoying the new amenities at TD Ameritrade Park.
And they are enjoying them.
In fact, they are still showing up to watch the CWS, but their personal Rosenblatt CWS experiences are burned into their memories. That means comparison on every level, which leads to a lot of questions and some disappointment.
"I like the new stadium," said Liz Militti, who attended the CWS at Rosenblatt for the better part of two decades as well as taking in CWS games at TD Ameritrade over the past two seasons. "I like the parking. I like that you can get onto the Metro circular [bus]. What I don't like is -- I'm a big LSU baseball fan. You can't find LSU fans anywhere. There's no crawfish. Where do people tailgate? Do you have to pay to tailgate?
"There are more bars. There's more to do, but it doesn't have the fan atmosphere feeling that used to be there. You used to be able to walk up and down the street and see a ton of people. Now, I don't see people. You either have to go downtown or you have to be in the stadium to see people."
At Rosenblatt Stadium, the parking lots around the stadium were surrounded with tailgaters. And 13th Street was always packed with merchandising tents that were filled with fans. At TD Ameritrade, you can find tailgaters. I see them every day in the parking lot I've been parking in. But they are spread out. And, of course, you can find plenty of merchandising tents, but those too are spread out.
In fact, there's so much empty space that I saw a man showing a boy (presumably his grandson) how to hit a long iron out of the grass next to a parking lot across the street from the stadium. They weren't using a golf ball. The boy was just taking practice swings, but he had plenty of room to do that. I've also seen kids playing baseball in the same vicinity.
The Rosenblatt CWS environment, both in and out of the stadium, was Omaha's Mardi Gras. It was organic. Fans congregated and celebrated the event together, sharing food, stories and beer. TD Ameritrade Park feels more like the suburbs where you need to be invited to a backyard barbeque.
As I spoke to fans, some prefer the new ballpark and the atmosphere that comes with it.
"The whole CWS experience seems cleaner in the new digs," said Jerry Guenther, a fan who has attended CWS games at Rosenblatt and TD Ameritrade Park. "The new park has big league field.
"I was against moving it from Rosenblatt, but TD Ameritrade Park is better. It's nothing fancy, but there is more room and it has some great views. The whole experience is cleaner -- from parking to seats. Big thing is having leg and shoulder room. It's nice not having backaches."
But what about the environment? Is it too corporate or too sterile for him?
"It's about right," Guenther said. "In a few years, it will have its own traditions and it will seem more homey.
I spoke to multiple people who felt the same way, saying it would take time for the park to develop a history and an environment that most people enjoy. Militti believes that to be true as well.
One fan told me he thought it might take 20 years of history in the ballpark until fans feel emotionally attached to it -- pointing out that when his this son gets married and brings his kids to the ballpark, then there will be a connection.
If it is going to take that long, then let's make the next 18 years count.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer who lives in Omaha, Nebraska and is covering the 2012 College World Series for YCN.
- Sports & Recreation
- TD Ameritrade
- College World Series
- Johnny Rosenblatt
- TD Ameritrade Park
- Rosenblatt Stadium