I went to the College World Series for a couple of days this year. I might have mentioned that before.
The resulting article is up on ESPN’s SportsTravel page right now. One of the people I spoke to in Omaha who contributed a lot to my understanding of the event’s history and my appreciation of where the CWS is and where it’s going was Jack Diesing, Jr., who heads up the non-profit organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. I used three quotes from him in the article, but really wanted Bus Leagues readers to see what else he had to say.
This is technically my father’s day post, because we talked a lot about how Jack Diesing, Sr. helped build the Series.
Extra P: The CWS has been at Rosenblatt for 60 years. In 2011, it will be in the new stadium downtown. How do you even begin to pack for a move like that?
Jack Diesing, Jr.: Having been somewhere for 60 years doesn’t make the process easy, but the overall idea is to make it as seamless as possible. Especially for season ticket holders who have been the backbone of the event over that time. Change is difficult, but change is good. You get people prepared for it, then you do it slowly but surely. You celebrate the past and you look forward to the future, and that’s what we’ll be doing for the next couple of years.
EP: Are there any treasures from earlier series hanging around Rosenblatt?
JD: There are a lot of plaques immortalizing past winners of the Series, some for past Most Outstanding Players, certainly plenty of photographs. There’s the “Road to Omaha” statue, of course. And most of those will, in one fashion or another, be moved to the new stadium.
EP: Will there be an auction of some of Rosenblatt’s effects? Seats, fixtures, signs?
JD: There aren’t any official plans for that at this point. But there will be discussions with the city of Omaha, because they might want to do something with the seats, and potentially some other artifacts. Anything unique to the Series will move to the new stadium, because this is about the history of the event, and it is about the College World Series, and about the NCAA DI baseball championship. We want to carry that tradition on to the future of college baseball.
EP: What will you miss about Rosenblatt?
JD: That’s an intriguing question. Mostly, for me, I’ll miss reliving the memories of some of the great games that were played there. There have been a lot of last-minute heroics. A lot of people have been touched by the College World Series over the years, starting with my father, then Rod Dedeaux, coaches, players, the people of Omaha who’ve contributed so much. The underlying theme, for me, is that Rosenblatt Stadium, for 60 years, has been the foundation of the success of the CWS, and it’s leading us into the future at least for the next 26 years. That’s a memory in and of itself.
We’ve gone through four different additions to the stadium.
EP: Which proposed features of the new stadium are you most interested in?
JD: The new stadium is going to be very, very fan friendly. There will be a 360 degree concourse going around the stadium so people can enjoy getting up, walking around, buying food, and visiting with people while still having a view of the action, and also not blocking anybody else’s view. The seats are going to be wider, with more legroom. The sight lines will be better than they are now, even though I don’t think there’s a bad seat in Rosenblatt, but it’ll be that much better. I think the overall experience will be something that people really enjoy.
EP: Fans are very attached to Rosenblatt, but do you get the sense that participating teams are excited about the new facility?
JD: I think the overall sense from those who are involved is that building the future of the CWS, making it fan-friendly, and also a place that offers a first-rate experience for student-athletes is good. It’s about creating something that will last long into the future that satisfies those criteria. For the players and the coaches, it’s going to be a great field with a wonderful atmosphere. Batting cages, locker rooms, the field itself – It’ll all be state of the art. We’re creating something that will allow the Series to live on in Omaha far into the future, and giving everyone a lifetime experience. Fans will have a new place to come and enjoy the greatest show on dirt. It IS all about the event. History is great, but the idea is also to continue to take the CWS to the next level for everyone involved. And the vision we create here is going to do that.
EP: Omaha has had an unprecedented run as the sole host city for this event. Is Omaha just fertile ground for baseball lovers, or did the love of baseball grow stronger because the series was always there?
JD: We’ve had AAA baseball in Omaha for a long time. But I think as the Series stayed here, people here took ownership of the CWS. Residents have been able to see this event basically from birth and watch it grow, expand, and improve. At the same time, the festival atmosphere that was created has been pretty affordable. We have a two-week event that allows people to come in, see old friends and watch kids playing baseball for the love of the game, since most of them won’t be able to go pro. The local participation and volunteerism is great. But we also have people from all over the world who have formed love affairs with the CWS, and that’s what it’s really all about. It’s not just the college kids, either. There are a lot of junior baseball tournaments played in town around this time as well.
EP: It’s a pretty big part of the identity of Omaha at this point, isn’t it?
JD: We have a belief that the sports initiative is a very important ingredient in the success of Omaha in terms of economic impact and the image of the city – the quality of life. The track record of success that we’ve built over the years has provided a solid foundation for developing credibility when we look at expanding the sports initiative. It has big economic impact in the community, it has a national image-building capacity for the community, and it’s also helped us build a reputation around the country for knowing how to host amateur sporting events, and we are aggressively expanding our sports presence in the city.
EP: The MOP trophy is named after your father. How did your family come to be involved with the CWS?
JD: That’s an interesting story. Way back when they came here, they were looking for local business leaders to run the show. So they found a local guy who owned the largest retail store here, and he did it for a while.
Then he passed away in 1963, and they convinced my father – who at first said “No way, I don’t want to do this – to take on the role of being the organizer of the event. And he also became the creator of the local organizing committee – CWS of Omaha, Inc. – which is a totally volunteer operation. He had never played baseball in his life, didn’t really want to do it, but it’s like the story we talked about a minute ago – he fell in love with the event, and the people who come here every year, and was actively involved for 27 years overall.
EP: Are you already planning farewell events for next year’s final series in Rosenblatt?
JD: Yeah, we are, but we don’t have any specific plans yet. We want to make sure it’s a celebration that would be fitting for the home of the CWS for the last 60 years, and we want to celebrate what Rosenblatt has meant to college baseball, and the enjoyment of the event by fans and players. We’re not far down the road with a lot of specificity, but it’s on our to-do list.
EP: That’s going to be a tough ticket to get!
JD: Every year’s a tough ticket to get. But it’ll be even more fun next year.
EP: If someone is planning to make their first trip to the CWS, where would you suggest they go?
JD: The first thing people usually want to do is get their picture taken in front of the “Road to Omaha” statue. It’s become the icon of the DI men’s baseball championship. You can do that right out in front of the stadium.
If you get here the Friday before the event and go up, down, and around the stadium, you’ll find all kinds of things going on. There’s the NCAA fan fest hosted by the event’s corporate partners. There are various retail establishments up and down 13th street, and there’s a local eatery called Zesto’s which is a place most people don’t want to miss. You can go in there and get a banana shake or something.
The Doorly Zoo, we think is the best zoo in the country, and from an attendance standpoint, it’s #2 in the country, and it’s right there. About four blocks away is Lauritzen Gardens, which is a botanical park. The Old Market is the downtown development which is in the older buildings downtown, and our convention center and arena is there. The Space Museum has aviation displays, and it’s not too far from downtown.
There’s a lot of things within three miles of the stadium that keep people busy for the time they’re here, but the one thing a first-timer should do is buy a general admission ticket and sit in the bleachers. That’s probably the most fun place to be for a game.
We’re out of time to visit this year’s series, but there’s always next year, and the 25 years after that… Thanks to Mr. Diesing for chatting with me.