21 June 2006

The Greatest Show On Dirt

Having spent the last three days in baseball nirvana, the NCAA's trademarked phrase, which I blatantly stole as a thread title, is so true. Stand back, kids....I am about to make an incredibly bold statement...

The NCAA Division I Men's Baseball College World Series is the single greatest live sporting event held annually in this country.

Soak that in for a second. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Yes, there are a few parameters in place, but I am not going to get into an argument with the World Cup freaks out there. Me, I would take the CWS over the World Cup anyday. But, the World Cup is a four-year worldwide event - and one that celebrates the world's most popular sport. That's tough to beat. I wouldn't trade my tickets in Omaha for a Group E undercard in Dusseldorf, but to each his own. The Olympics are also a unique series of events, which bears some merit in the "Greatest Sporting Events to Attend" competition. But, the Olympics stroll around every other year -- alternating winter and summer gatherings. Interest in the Olympics, domestically, waxes and wanes with the United States' athletes on the field.

Why does the CWS rank ahead of the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the Major League Baseball World Series -- heck, all of the professional sports championships, the BCS, the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, and anything else you want to throw my way? Well, I'll tell you -- but, you would know, if you made just one trip to Omaha.

Come to think of it, Omaha is probably the Number One reason why the CWS earns this title. The CWS envelopes Omaha each June, and Omaha embraces "their" event like no one else would. This championship has been played in the same city for the last 57 years, and Omaha wraps its collective arms around this 10 (or so) day tournament as though it were their own child. The people here are so friendly, it almost seems fake -- until you realize that everyone is genuinely THAT nice. I live in an area that gets overrun with tourists and snowbirds. Most locals resent, if not hate them. Please spend your money and then leave quietly -- and try not to break anything -- that's what we'd tell our tourists, if we had the nerve. Here, we were invited to someone's home to have some brats and kebabs -- after meeting the guy in the stands for one of the games between two teams in which none of us had a rooting interest. These folks want to show you around -- share with you their pride in what they have to offer. Folks will ask you "Have you been to the Zoo?" (yes); "Did you make it to Johnny's for steak?" (hell yes); and my favorite, after arriving for a meal at a local restaurant in between two games at the stadium, our server greeted our table and didn't ask us what we would like to drink or tell us the day's specials -- she asked us simply, "Who won the early game?"

Still need more convincing? Check below the break....

Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium
hosts this event. Seating capacity is just over 23,000, but there are always standing room/general admission tickets available, and I have personally been to a few games where attendance has exceeded 25,000 people. How do they draw 25,000+ people to college baseball games, often hundreds or thousands of miles away from where the schools are located? EVERY ticket to every game is affordable, that's how! Anyone can purchase a book of 10 general admission tickets for $60. These tickets are good to ANY game in the CWS. You want to go to the finals for $6/ticket -- go ahead. All you need to do is wait in line. I have never actually been to the finals -- I prefer to go to the early round games, usually culminating on Tuesday. Affectionately known as "Elimination Day," four teams play in two different games, with the idea simple -- win or go home. One day, two games, two teams moving on to live another day, two going home unhappy. Ticket scalpers hawk their wares outside the stadium, so there are usually plenty of tickets available to the early round games. The general admission tickets get you an unmarket seat in the bleachers, but veterans know that not everyone will show up in the seat-backs. Given that temparatures can make it oppressively hot (even for this Florida boy), the best seats to be had are under the shade, a little higher up, so that the breeze kicks through. Total cost -- SIX bucks (and the desire to move around a little if someone comes along and claims your seat) -- and if that isn't the kind of thing that is affordable to most anybody, I don't know what is. How much would that Super Bowl ticket cost you?

Parking can be a little tricky, but if you know where to look, you can even avoid paying the $10 or $20 per game that local homeowners garner selling off their lawn as parking space. Believe it or not, there is plentiful street parking around the stadium. This does fill up fast, and the more you are willing to walk a distance (uphill going to the game, but downhill coming back!), the more likely you are to find free parking. For me, part of the added thrill is the walk through the neighborhood - people out grilling burgers and brats, locals hawking sodas or bottled water (remember, I told you it was hot), the local paper is handed out free to all fans, and then a tent city of companies selling shirts, hats, and other logoed knick-knacks. It is quite the festive atmosphere. Of course, all the while, fans line the street decked out from head to toe in their college's colors -- or even wearing the logos of schools not in attendance. I saw my fair share of displaced LSU and University of Texas fans these past few days.

Hotels fill up fast, so going at the last minute is not the best plan of attack. Still, I have NEVER come here without being able to use points accrued from some hotel chains loyalty program for free nights. Most of the people who decide to go at the last minute are people with a rooting interest in one of the teams that made it. These people get soaked on hotel rooms and flights. Planning in advance is the way to go, and if your team happens to make it (Go Tar Heels!), then just be pleasantly surprised. One more affordable way to go can be to stay in nearby Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is right across the Missouri River. Just try getting a hotel room on points for the days surrrounding the Kentucky Derby in Lexington.

Accessibility to the players is unmatched, from a fan's perspective. Last night, we sat one row behind five guys from the Carolina baseball team. Chad Flack, who hit the two decisive home runs against Alabama in the Super Regional chatted with me about baseball. In years past, we have stayed in the same hotel as the University of South Carolina and LSU. Both times, we had breakfast two tables over from either the starting pitcher, head coach, or former star players. Do you think that Heat fans in Dallas had breakfast with Shaq this morning?

If you haven't bought in yet, you don't have a sports pulse -- or, you are just so hung up on professional sports and being spoonfed whatever networks want you to believe is the best.

Don't believe me? Head to Omaha, and prove me wrong!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more. I live in Omaha currently, and those who have not attended do not know what they are missing. Come and see what the CWS has to offer - you will never regret it!