Long CWS history will continue at new stadium

By Adam Ziegler

For the last 60 years, college baseball teams from across the country have made the trek to Omaha’s Rosenblatt stadium for the College World Series.

But this week marks the last time teams and fans will flood into Rosenblatt to crown a college baseball champion.

Next year, the CWS will move from its traditional South Omaha home to the new TD Ameritrade Park. And later this year, Rosenblatt will be torn down to make room for the expansion of the neighboring Henry Doorly Zoo.

While Rosenblatt has become synonymous with the College World Series, the two haven’t always been linked. The College World Series spent its first two years, 1947 and 1948, in Kalamazoo, Mich., before heading to Wichita, Kan., for a year.

Rosenblatt had a life before the CWS as well. Built in 1947 as the Omaha Municipal Stadium, the park was conceived to house Major League exhibition games, concerts and be home to the Omaha Cardinals, a minor league team associated with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It wasn’t until 1950 that Rosenblatt Stadium and the CWS began their long history together. John Rosenblatt, an Omaha city council member and former semipro baseball player who had been instrumental in building the Municipal Stadium, convinced the NCAA to give its baseball championship a permanent home in Omaha.

While the CWS would remain an integral part of the stadium for the next six decades, the facility itself would undergo a number of changes during that time.

After losing its minor league tenant in 1962, the stadium became the home of the Kansas City Royals’ minor league franchise in 1969. And in 1964 the stadium was renamed the Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in honor of the man who’d played such an important role in bringing baseball to Omaha.

In 1980, ESPN raised awareness of Rosenblatt and the CWS by televising games and by the late 1990s average attendance at CWS games was reaching 20,000 people. In 2001 Rosenblatt received a $7 million renovation. Ten thousand new seats were added, raising the stadium’s total capacity to 23,145.

But by this point some feared the popularity of the CWS had become too great for Rosenblatt to contain. About six years ago, rumors began that the NCAA was threatening to move the CWS out of Omaha unless the city was willing to commit to a larger, more updated facility.

While efforts began to save the CWS’ longstanding home, including a television campaign with ads featuring Kevin Costner, eventually the city relented to the NCAA’s demand. In January 2009, Omaha began construction on TD Ameritrade Park, a $128 million facility that guaranteed the CWS would stay in Omaha at least through 2035.

Extending Omaha’s contract to host the CWS for another 25 years was an unprecedented move from the NCAA, but Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president of baseball and football, said the new stadium reflected Omaha’s commitment to the CWS.

The construction of this new stadium is a result of the outstanding partnership that the NCAA and Omaha have enjoyed,” Poppe said. I am pleased that together we arrived at an agreement that ensures Omaha will be the home of the College World Series for many years to come.

The new stadium will have a capacity of 24,000, with 26 luxury suites and 1,000 club seats. In addition to housing the CWS every summer, the Creighton University baseball team and the new Omaha United Football League team will also play in the stadium.

Although Rosenblatt Stadium will ultimately be demolished to make way for the new facility, a piece of the CWS’ traditional home will be part of the new stadium. The bronze “Road to Omaha” statue currently outside Rosenblatt will be moved downtown to the new location.

While moving the CWS from Rosenblatt drew intense criticism, former Omaha mayor Mike Fahey said it was the only option for keeping the tournament in Omaha. And losing the CWS wasn’t something he wanted to see.

“The NCAA College World Series is one of the nation’s great amateur sports events and the benefits to Omaha serving as the host city for the next 25 years are far-reaching, Fahey said.

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