LSU fans travel to Omaha for Rosenblatt’s final CWS

By Katherine Terrell

The old stadium on the hill has loomed over Omaha since 1948.

The stadium, bathed in colors of blue, red and yellow, has seen thousands of fans make their way through the gates. Boys have become men in the ballpark through their defeats — Paul Carey’s grand slam against Ben McDonald — and legends through their triumphs — Warren Morris’ walkoff home run to win the 1996 championship.

Former Daily Reveille sports writer Andy Schwehm, who covered LSU’s national championship run last year, said it felt surreal to see the stadium for the first time.

“The first thing you see coming up the hill is this gigantic baseball stadium,” Schwehm said. “It’s the most beautiful sight ever for a college baseball fan.”

The big stadium in the small neighborhood has offered that same sight for thousands of fans, standing the test of time as the city grew up around it. But as recent history has shown, no ballpark is too sacred to be replaced.

Yankee Stadium has been replaced, and the original Alex Box has been reduced to rubble. Once TD Ameritrade Park opens up in 2011, Rosenblatt will be gone, too.

Those who have been there say Rosenblatt’s destruction won’t keep the loyal fans of the College World Series away from Omaha.

“What makes the stadium is people,” said LSU fan Chris Guillot, who can usually be seen leading “Geaux Tigers” cheers in Alex Box.

Guillot made his first trip to Omaha in 1989, after LSU beat Texas A&M in the regional to advance to the World Series, and has come back every year since.

“Barely could afford tickets, barely could afford a room, but I left College Station and went straight to Omaha,” Guillot said. “I come and go even if LSU’s not there because I have made friends and relationships for 21 years. The game of baseball is one thing, but life is about people.”

Guillot isn’t alone, especially this year, as people have flocked to the old neighborhood to say their goodbyes. University alumnus Joy Hammatt, who cheers with Guillot, is in Omaha for her 12th tournament.

There’s a palpable difference in the air and in the streets, which Hammatt said have been so packed with people she could hardly move.

A sign Hammatt saw this year said, “LSU fans love Omaha with or without their team,” and the Tiger faithful are just a few of the thousands of people who came to pay their respects.
The demise of Rosenblatt can’t replace the memories either. Years after the fact, Morris’ home run still stands as one of the greatest plays ever made in the stadium.

“It was excitement that you never dreamed of,” Guillot recalled. “It’s the definition of baseball.”

The passion of playing in the College World Series brings that out in people, he said.
“People start crying tears of joy or tears of sadness here when their teams win or lose,” Guillot said.

The absence of LSU has been like a “death in the family” to the locals, Guillot said.

“What makes Omaha and why people beg for the LSU fans to be here is because LSU fans make the College World Series,” Guillot said. “They bring more excitement than any team in the country.”

Other notable teams missing this year are Texas, Stanford, Miami and USC. The teams have been mainstays to the tournament over the years.

But among the many good qualities of Omaha locals, including generosity, friendliness and passion for college baseball, is the ability to see things in a positive light, Guillot said. The lack of the traditional powerhouses has led them to root for teams like TCU, which made its first appearance this year.

“They’ve embraced TCU the most,” Hammatt said. “Not only did they beat Texas, but it’s their first year here.”

Hammatt said she worries about what will happen to the neighborhood once the College World Series packs it up for good. Local businesses like Zesto Ice Cream and Stadium View Sports Cards thrive on the tournament’s business.

Parking is also a worry for the fans who love tailgating.

“A lot of us are worried about where we’re going to cook,” Hammatt said.

It’ll be a different experience, but Hammatt said she is willing to give the new stadium a shot.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the stadium,” Hammatt said. “But I’m going to embrace the new [one].”

As for Guillot, he knows he’ll be there next year cheering for the Tigers in a new location.

“I know LSU is going to be there for a simple reason: Paul Mainieri,” Guillot said. “People think or hope, but I know we’re going to be back in Omaha.”

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