Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Save Ferris, Not Rosenblatt

There's nothing redeeming about Rosenblatt Stadium. It's been a dying dog that should have been put out of it's misery 10 years ago. The only reason it's lived as long as it has is because for years, the City of Omaha helped turn something called the College World Series into what Tony Soprano would call "an ATM Machine." On a national level, the CWS isn't that big a deal. Sure, it's always a great vacation spot for those from LSU and Cal State Fullerton because those people have become part of the annual carnival and bring millions of dollars to Omaha every June (whether their teams make it or not). Yes, the city of Omaha gets a 2-week shout out from ESPN and some writers wax nostalgically about how great the event is. All true, but it ain't like the nation is overwhelmingly captivated by the 8 teams who punch their ticket to the Big O each year. The CWS is what you'd call a big local event, but it doesn't appear to have any sort of legs that would make it a national phenomenon like College Football or March Madness are (I've reasoned for years that aluminum bats prevent it from being bigger in that regard, the pings for my money almost put the college game down to an Arena Football-esque level).

But this isn't about the College World Series trying to stretch it's cume. This is about what the Series means to Omaha's economy, and the big 700 pound hideous elephant in the room called Rosenblatt Stadium. Rosenblatt only tries to put on it's Sunday best for the two weeks the CWS comes to town, and even then it's more like Gary Busey putting on a tuxedo. Fortunately for the Blatt, all games are sold out, because that place feels absolutely empty with a crowd of 10,000. As someone who spent more than an entire season at the stadium, there's no other way to put it. Rosenblatt is a dump. There are no quaint little charms that you find in old parks like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and yes even Yankee Stadium. Even after millions of dollars spent on upgrades, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey finally realized there's no way to dress that pig. And that eventually, the NCAA was going to figure this out as well, and start to at least pay attention from the cries that came from Oklahoma City and even Indianapolis. Sure, the CWS and Omaha have been a great marriage, but the NCAA has the upper hand in this relationship, and if Michael Douglas has a chance to shack up with Catherine Zeta-Jones...

So the NCAA knows it has Omaha by the balls. The money spent in Omaha during those two weeks alone is staggering. But it's the event itself the people come for, not because it's at some hollowed stadium that gives you chills upon seeing it. The loud voices (from, it should be noted, a very small group, about the same number of people who would attend an average Omaha Royals game) who are fighting to "Save Rosenblatt" are missing the point. A new stadium in downtown would bring in even more revenue to Omaha. The NCAA would sign a long-term agreement with the city, something that would suggest that the CWS and Omaha are staying together. No more jockeying for position every few years.

Take a walk around Rosenblatt sometime. Take away the zoo, which just dwarfs everything, and it ain't exactly Wrigleyville you got there. There's a small, old-time Zesto's fast food joint that is right out of 1959. You have to walk a while to find an old-time saloon called Starsky's, which is nice if you're looking to get drunk by only spending 10 bucks. It's just a shitty old neighborhood. A new ballpark in Downtown Omaha would bring in new restaurants, bars, retail stores, probably another hotel, and would offer that much more for the CWS. The Omaha Royals and Creighton Bluejays would see increased interest and attendance for their games. There would actually be a baseball stadium where you'd go out of your way to see. And yes, there would be plenty of parking, which means tailgating will be even bigger than it's been (one of the CWS many charms for my money).
The small Omaha contingent that thinks it can play a game of chicken with the NCAA doesn't have a fucking clue. They obviously haven't seen how the seating behind home plate stays wet and unsafe for days after rain hits it. They haven't noticed how difficult it is for anyone inside to get concessions or souvenirs. The merchandise store -- yes, there's only one -- is the size of a fitting room. There's no room to add space for these folks to do business.

The really great news is that Fahey and his band are dialed in. No matter how many more small groups yell at town meetings, the new ballpark is happening. Give credit to Fahey on sticking to his vision, one he actually started thinking about over three years ago. Fahey knows that NOT building the new stadium would mean losing the CWS, and then Omaha becomes about as attractive as Des Moines. So Rosenblatt's done in 2 years, and Omaha will have some new toys to add to a skyline that Alexander Payne made fun of in About Schmidt. It's all happening. And it's about fucking time.

1 comment:

TravisRoastBeef said...

now your talking, I am very opinionated on this subject for a couple reasons. Mainly, I would love to attend more O Royals games, but dont like feeling like a pound of nacho's in Carnie Wilson's stomach. Having the stadium downtown would be closer for me and their would be more to do around the area(ever been downtown after a Creighton basketball game?) These save Rosenblatt quacks need to spend less time holding rallies and inviting the news(Look at all 15 of us) and more time actually going to the games. (hey, if you actually went to the O' Royals games this whole discussion wouldnt even be happening). On a side note: I have from a very solid source that Fahey could actually give a shit about this new ballpark or baseball altogether for that matter, and is more than a little pissed off that this thing has landed on his plate like deep fat fried mozzarella cheese sticks land on Carnie Wilson's. Fahey, though isnt about to be the Mayor who loses the CWS, and understands the stakes and the potential that the stadium would bring to the downtown development.