29 June 2006

Trip Log, Day 5; Omaha

Note: This is one of a series. You can find the complete series index here.

At this point in the trip, life is very good. I am in Omaha, for the College World Series, and my team is 2-0 and holding some serious chips heading into the midweek games. Having been to Omaha previously, I have developed some favorites. Knowing that this trip was short on time here, we had a finely planned operation to make sure that we hit all the favorite places, and still make the ballpark for a decent number of hours.

This day was to be prime ballpark day. We got an early start because the area surrounding the stadium is something to simply soak up. I wanted to get some serious soaking time in. Merchandise tents line 13th Street, stretching a solid mile in front of the stadium. Vendors hawking t-shirts, pizza slices, and aluminum bats all stake out their spots, while religious groups hand out bottled water, the local paper is given out free, and supporters for legalizing gambling in Nebraska all try to mark time with passers-by. It is an all-out street carnival, with a serious baseball theme.

We entered the ballpark around noon for the game scheduled to begin at 1 pm. By now, I had developed a stroke of hunger. In planning our day, we planned to grab "something light" at the ballpark, and gorge on a meal in between the two games. The food scene at Rosenblatt is something to behold. It is a veritable food orgy, and for stadium food, is surprisingly affordable. After doing a bit of a recon mission, I decided on a salt pretzel ($3). This was a huge mistake. I don't know if the problem was just the time of day, but it was awful. It was soft -- too soft, as though it had not even been baked. The salt, applied upon ordering, was excessive. I ate about half and tossed the rest. Blech. The food that I had previously had at Rosenblatt had always been very good. They have an excellent chicken fingers platter for about $7 which comes with four chicken fingers and more fries than most can finish. The nachos are always a hit with fans, as are the onion blossoms and funnel cakes (which seem to come from an outside vendor).

There is always a confluence of food smells in and around the stadium -- the burgers, sold inside, are grilled out in the open (don't see that anywhere anymore). Outside the stadium, Omaha Steaks sells their products, as does Famous Dave's BBQ. One of the more baffling treats to be considered a hit in Omaha is Dippin' Dots. Yes, it is hot, and anything cold is a welcome respite. But, I have never seen any place as crazy for Dippin' Dots as the midwest, and Omaha, in particular. They advertise themselves as "The Ice Cream of the Future," but it seems as though the future has been coming for a long time. I doesn't even look the least bit appetizing to me, but folks scarf this stuff up.

Eight flags representing the teams in Omaha fly over the centerfield fence. One of the new traditions at Omaha this year is the lowering of the flags for the eliminated teams. After Oregon State beat the University of Georgia in a pretty poorly played game, UGA's flag joined the Georgia Tech flag as those flying at half-staff.

Our late afternoon meal (again, I would only call this dinner at the AARP Early Bird specials in Florida) was at a place we discovered our first year in Omaha, Lo Sole Mio. Back in 2004, we were sitting in the upper reaches of the grandstand, chatting with a local family. We told them of our ballpark adventures and mentioned that it was our first time in Omaha. They asked us where we were planning on eating in town, as we had mentioned that food was an equal part of our ballpark journeys. We, of course, asked for their suggestions. The woman in the group turned to me and asked if we liked Italian. I kind of shrugged my shoulders, as if to say "sure, but why would I come to Omaha to eat Italian?" She told me that she could refer me to the "best Italian meal I have ever had." I gave her the raised eyebrow, and politely told her that I grew up on Long Island, and have had a pretty good fair share of decent Italian meals. She conceded, but still offered that it would be the best Italian I would have in a solid 300 mile radius. Fair enough - and we had the afternoon free, so we checked it out. Well, the lady was right....it is VERY GOOD Italian, and it has been part of our regular stops since then.

On this trip, I (the less adventurous eater of the two of us) ordered the chicken marsala and my buddy ate the Pasta Con Pomodori Secchi, a dish of sun dried tomatoes, grilled chicken and some veggies served over pasta. Both meals were enormous. Unfortunately, we didn't have a fridge in our hotel, so leftovers would be a waste. Successfully, gorged, it was time to head back to the ballpark.

The evening matchup was one that we really looked forward to. University of Miami against mighty Rice U. Since UNC was in the other half of the bracket, I felt like it was OK to root for Rice - besides, the last time we saw Rice in Omaha, they brought their mascot, and I was able to get my picture taken with the Rice Owl! Since they were the only team to bring a mascot that year, they were able to secure my support. That was the year Rice won the championship - the only championship in their school's history.

More basbeall...and some really good steak in the next post!

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