Ben Portnoy: An ode to Omaha

 

Ben Portnoy

Ben Portnoy

 

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

As I sat in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport between flights back to Starkville, I couldn't help but reflect on the past week's festivities. 

 

For the first time in my life I headed to Omaha, Nebraska, to cover Mississippi State at the College World Series. In all its magic, heartbreak and unbridled glory, I sat through every minute of every game as MSU made its ill-fated charge toward the program's first national title. 

 

I wasn't born in the Midwest but it's the place that shaped me. After my freshman year of high school I moved to the suburbs of Chicago before heading to Indiana University for my undergraduate work. 

 

I'm used to the plains, the offbeat accent and the stereotypical kindness Midwesterners often possess. Omaha was no different. 

 

From the minute I arrived, the excitement of the week had engulfed the city. Above Jams American Grill, just on the edge of the Old Market, flags with the logos of each qualifying team hung high and mightily. So many other establishments offered varying arrays of the same display. 

 

In each bar, restaurant and hotel, seemingly every patron was asked, "Are you here for the World Series?" -- though the employees, of course, already knew the answer. 

 

For a city that is modest in size relative to most major American metropolises, Omaha evokes a small-town feel. 

 

The bars are packed with locals each night. Folks trade handshakes and hugs at each street corner. 

 

And boy, do they love their baseball -- something their hometown park more than indicates. 

 

I'll concede I never visited Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium -- the site of the series from 1950 to 2010. But I will argue that TD Ameritrade Park surely brings an equitable raucous atmosphere to the one its predecessor garnered so much acclaim. 

 

For hours prior to each MSU game, Bulldog faithful lined North 10th Street in hopes of securing a general admission ticket. 

 

At the front of the line last Sunday, a man from Jackson told me he had waited three hours for the opportunity to sit in the outfield bleachers. 

 

Across the pavement in Lot B, the Left Field Lounge Lizards constructed a tailgate venue for their incoming Bulldog brethren to set up shop, enjoy a cold refreshment or taste some fresh cuisine before heading into the ballpark. 

 

Then came the games. 

 

I need not describe the atmosphere MSU fans enjoy in their home confines of Dudy Noble Field. The Carnegie Hall of College Baseball is something special all to itself. 

 

That said, there is something innately similar and all together moving about TD Ameritrade as the Midwestern sky shifts to night above its massive stadium lights with the Omaha skyline standing watch behind it. 

 

On the field the game is played in its purest form. Ballplayers from all corners of the country give their best efforts in hopes of bringing a championship to their school -- not in attempt to boost their next paycheck. 

 

From the "White!" and "Maroon!" chants, to the echoes of boisterous cheers for each Bulldog batter, it's fair to say that even in defeat, there's an argument to be made that MSU fans truly made TD Ameritrade "Dudy Noble North." 

 

The week of course ended in agony as Louisville walked-off with a 4-3 win over the boys from Starkville Thursday night. 

 

For MSU greats Jake Mangum, Elijah MacNamee and Cole Gordon, it was a wake-up call of epically painful proportions. 

 

The anguish of defeat will persist, sure. Fans and players alike gave their hearts and souls to what appeared to be a team destined for a title following an improbable opening game win over Auburn. 

 

Monday at 6 p.m. the national championship series between No. 2 Vanderbilt and Michigan will commence. 

 

Some, if not most, will argue MSU should be in that position -- wherein lies the most devastating part of the what Omaha and the College World Series have to offer. 

 

After over a week-and-a-half of competition, only one team will escape with a national title. For seven other squads, the pure agony of a missed opportunity will set in. 

 

But this is not to say that Omaha is a place that baseball teams come to be forgotten. Rather, they arrive with hopes and dreams of immortality. For a few, that will be the case. For the others, it is the adventure of a lifetime. 

 

In the case of this reporter, it's an experience I will surely never forget.

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.

 

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