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Remembering Rosenblatt: Once the hub of CWS activity, old park now has feel of a ghost town

 

All that remains of Rosenblatt Stadium is the original playing diamond, surrounded by some chairback seating from the original stadium. The brick displayed in the background includes bricks from the original stadium. The Rosenblatt Stadium sign once hung over the stadium’s original entrance.

All that remains of Rosenblatt Stadium is the original playing diamond, surrounded by some chairback seating from the original stadium. The brick displayed in the background includes bricks from the original stadium. The Rosenblatt Stadium sign once hung over the stadium’s original entrance. Photo by: Scott Walters/Dispatch Staff

 

Scott Walters

 

 

OMAHA, Neb. -- Paul Salazar unloaded a crock pot from the back of a van Wednesday afternoon. 

 

Parked on the side of 13th Street, in front of what was once Rosenblatt Stadium, Salazar worked leisurely as he unloaded additional items from the vehicle. There was no rush. There was no traffic. The wind was calm and the day was beautiful. 

 

Elsewhere in town, the fifth day of the College World Series was about to crank up at TD Ameritrade Park. Later that night, Oregon State University defeated Indiana, 1-0, in a CWS elimination game. 

 

Salazar was not concerned about the baseball game, though. He knew the tournament was in town but had not been following closely. 

 

"I'm not that much into baseball," Salazar said. "I know the tournament is here and it is a big deal. A lot of visitors are here and it makes the city a lot of money. I am not really sure though of who is here or who is winning and losing." 

 

It is hard to believe that three years ago during this week, 13th Street would have appeared much different. Thousands of fans would have been tailgating. The street would remain open but spectators would have made it difficult to pass. Fans might have stopped off for a Zesto's cheeseburger or visited with a ticket scalper or two to shop for a lower ticket price. Eventually, game time would arrive and half of 13th Street would have moved into Rosenblatt Stadium. The other half would have been more than content to continue working on its food and beverage out on the street. 

 

"It's sad, it really is," said Alexis Smith, a Biloxi resident and ardent Louisiana State University supporter. "It is eerie how quiet it is in this neighborhood. This is where the party used to never stop." 

 

Smith watched as her two children ran the bases where Rosenblatt Stadium once stood. Much like Mississippi State University, LSU has not been to the college baseball national championship tournament since the event moved three miles down the road to 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park in 2011. 

 

 

 

Memory Lane 

 

MSU and LSU fans alike streamed into the old location of Rosenblatt Stadium at some point in time this week to see what really had happened to the venerable old stadium that had served as proud host of the College World Series for half a century. 

 

The original infield is still intact. A rubberized surface has replaced the original base paths. There are two dugouts and a scattering of chair-backs. There are also a couple of displays, highlighting past achievements and past champions. In the distance both foul poles still stand. 

 

Elsewhere, there are parking spots -- and lots of them. The Henry Doorly Zoo had always sat beyond the outfield wall at Rosenblatt Stadium. The zoo owned the land and when the tournament moved, the remainder of the original Rosenblatt Stadium was razed to make room for additional parking spaces for the zoo. 

 

"We have had a steady flow in here this past week," said Pam Andrews, a zoo official. "The College World Series has always been very good for our business. This year is really no different. Even though the tournament has moved, we are still getting the same type of bump that we were getting in the past. 

 

"(Losing Rosenblatt Stadium) has certainly had a change on the neighborhood. It's just not the same. That doesn't mean you can't have a great tournament in a great stadium in a great city." 

 

City of Omaha officials elected to build the new stadium in 2007 after reaching an agreement with the NCAA to keep the College World Series in Omaha through 2035. The event was held annually from 1950 to 2010 at Rosenblatt Stadium. Mississippi State played in eight of those tournaments. Rosenblatt was closed after the 2010 season but re-opened for tours during the week of the College World Series in both 2011 and 2012. 

 

Many feel the move was forced by television, since Rosenblatt Stadium struggled to keep up with new technology demands. Expansion options at the old stadium had all but been exhausted over the years. The new stadium seats more, has better expansion options, is television-friendly and also offers sky boxes and other amenities not found at the old park. 

 

 

 

Carrying on 

 

The final destruction of Rosenblatt Stadium took place weeks after the 2012 College World Series was complete. 

 

"Actually, our business has remained pretty good," said Bob Harlon, who owns a memorabilia business close to the old stadium. "We catered to College World Series participants for more than 30 years, so we have regulars. They always come back to town and they stop in to see us. 

 

"This was more a residential neighborhood than it was a business neighborhood. So, a lot of businesses didn't exactly close or lose out when the tournament moved across town. A lot of the T-shirt vendors and once-a-year people are still setting up at the new ballpark. Of course, they are paying a lot more to do it. Omaha is a great town, so as the years move along, people will be more comfortable with the new ballpark." 

 

Several houses on 13th Street sit vacant now. One has a For Sale sign in the front yard. The McDonald's parking lot behind the house -- used for years as a shuttle pick-up location for the College World Series -- is empty, too. 

 

The Rosenblatt Stadium signs on the interstate are now long gone. The magnetic sign which once marked the entrance to the stadium is gone. Even the thick poles which once anchored the sign are gone and the grass has grown in its place. 

 

One meek sign does hang above a traffic light. It reads "Rosenblatt Stadium, left" and "Zoo Parking, left." As much zoo parking as there is, the sign pretty much states the obvious. 

 

A few feet away from this sign, Salazar still unpacks food. A local church now owns the house where the MSU Alumni Association held its welcome party and pre-tournament dinner and pep rally in 2007, MSU's last CWS appearance until this year. 

 

Inside the house, the church was planning a dinner Wednesday night. If time stood still, with MSU holding a 2-0 record in the College World Series for the first time since 1985, a party in that house this year would certainly last well into the weekend.

 

Scott is sports copy editor and reporter

 

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