Omaha considering changes to Rosenblatt Stadium
Posted: Thursday June 14, 2007 6:57PM; Updated: Thursday June 14, 2007 7:29PM
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- To fans who make the trek each June and to those watching at home, Rosenblatt Stadium is synonymous with the College World Series.
The 'Blatt, as locals call it, has hosted the Division I baseball championship since 1950. The event returns this Friday -- so does the familiar sizzle from the grills of the Omaha Steaks stand outside the main entrance.
Aficionados hope the tournament never leaves the old-style ballpark. City leaders can't promise it will stay.
The city has submitted two plans to the NCAA that would further entrench the CWS in Omaha. One calls for a new downtown stadium, the other seeks a major renovation of Rosenblatt.
Before a decision is made, the city wants the NCAA to lock the CWS in Omaha through at least 2020. The current contract runs through 2010.
The issue is sure to be bandied this week when the CWS begins its 10- or 11-day run.
"I take great pride in Rosenblatt Stadium. It's the centerpiece of college baseball," said Mississippi State coach Ron Polk, who has coached three different schools to seven CWS appearances since 1973.
"Do I want them to tear it down and go downtown? I'm not going to tell the city of Omaha what to do. Rosenblatt has that uniqueness, and I'd hate to see it go," Polk said. "If they're going to build something bigger and better, more power to them."
Backers of a new stadium say Rosenblatt, built in 1948 and used by the Kansas City Royals' Triple-A team, is definitely outdated. "Rickety" is the word used more often.
Television viewers see a well-manicured playing field, tight-shot cutaways and panoramic views of the stadium.
But fans who visit the park must deal with woeful parking facilities and then navigate a narrow, grungy concourse to their seats.
The city has spent $35 million the last 15 years to upgrade the stadium with new seats, a video board, a sound system and concession stands.
But CWS Inc., the local organizing body, determined two years ago that it would take at least $25 million more in improvements to make the event the best it could be. The NCAA suggested that instead of spending that much on renovations, perhaps the city should think about a new stadium.
"Rosenblatt has a long and storied history in Omaha and with the College World Series, so any decision will not be made lightly," Mayor Mike Fahey said.
Dennis Poppe, NCAA managing director of baseball, pointed out that most top college teams play regular-season games and conference tournaments in modern stadiums. Rosenblatt, by comparison, is spartan.
That's part of the charm, North Carolina coach Mike Fox said.
Fox loves the nostalgia that goes along with playing at an old-time ballpark where Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Dave Winfield appeared before becoming major league stars.
"I'm just one of those guys who says newer isn't always better," Fox said. "Sometimes an old leather chair, no matter how old, feels better than a new one."
Louisiana State athletic director Skip Bertman, who won five national championships at Rosenblatt when he coached the Tigers, said he doesn't accept change easily. But he notes that landmarks such as Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and the original Comiskey Park all came down.
Why not Rosenblatt, Bertman asks.
"If the timing is right by the College World Series committee and the NCAA championship committee, I trust them," Bertman said.
A new stadium would have 9,000 permanent seats with the ability to expand to 25,000 for the CWS, according to preliminary plans.
First known as Municipal Stadium, the park was renamed in 1964 in honor of Johnny Rosenblatt, Omaha's mayor from 1954-61. The stadium, which originally seated 10,000, now has a capacity of 23,145.
The Division I baseball committee will make a recommendation on the stadium issue to the Division I championships cabinet, possibly this fall. Poppe said the cabinet would decide on a long-term contract extension with Omaha.
That decision will in large part determine whether Rosenblatt stays or goes.
"All I know is that they better have a real good reason to tear down something so special," said Arizona State coach Pat Murphy, a baseball committee member. "It's a very sacred place in the baseball world for many major leaguers and for players who never went beyond college baseball. At the same time, it might be better for the future of the College World Series."
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