Monday, June 25, 2012

Omaha's Biggest Sports Day Ever?

Tonight, Omaha will be hosting two nationally televised sports competitions simultaneously.  At TD Ameritrade Park, it'll be game two of the College World Series Championships and across the street at the CenturyLink Center, it will be day one of the Olympic Swim Trials.  ESPN will be televising the baseball game while NBC will be televising the swim trials.  Has there been a bigger day for Omaha sports?  It would be hard to pick a bigger day.

Sure Omaha has hosted NBA games, but that was when the NBA was a fledgling league.  Omaha has hosted some boxing matches, to be sure...but I don't know that even Ron Stander's heaveyweiht bout with Joe Frazier merits the same comparison.  A horse race?  Doubtful.  Some NCAA tournament games (such as the OJ Mayo/Michael Beasley game from 2008) might be close, but that was just one event.

One could argue that neither event will grab the nation's attention.  I'll agree.  Lincoln has had bigger days just by the fact that Husker football is more attention-worthy than anything that has ever happened in Omaha.  But this isn't about that...this is about a big day for Omaha and having two events nationally televised.  35,000 or more people will be flooding downtown; that's a great thing.

Will it go flawlessly?  Nope.  You can't build all of the infrastructure to make a day like this completely seamless.  Not when this is probably a one-time coincidence of scheduling.  Parking is going to be expensive and not as convenient.  But that doesn't make this a bad thing; it makes this a great thing that Omaha can support two events like this at the same time.

At least we hope so.  Will crowds show up to both events?  Or will people bitch about the conflicts just to bitch about it?  I'm sure some idiots will suggest that it would be better if the College World Series was back at Rosenblatt.  (Oh really?  THAT was a parking clusterf*!)  Or that Omaha should have insisted that the schedules not overlap.  (They tried, and this was the best that could be done.)

What was the alternative?  Saying "no" to one of those events?  That would be a huge mistake.  So let's enjoy what we've got tonight.  A lot of cities would kill for just one of these events.

Omaha got 'em both.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rosenblatt's Death Bed

Last week, the Omaha Zoo gave in to the people who wanted one last look at Rosenblatt Stadium before it's demolished.  Last year, so many people tried to sneak in during the College World Series that they decided that it was easier to open the gates one last time than try to secure the place.  So they came by the thousands to take one last look, and to take the field.

Except it wasn't really Rosenblatt Stadium anymore.  Oh sure, it was at 13th & Bert Murphy Drive.  The signs on the back of the old scoreboard and Stadium Club still said "Rosenblatt".  But it wasn't really Rosenblatt.

This was like going to visit grandma in the hospital on her death bed.  She's shriveled up in the indignity of a gown that exposes everything that doesn't need to be seen. What you loved about the place had long disappeared.  Almost all of the seats have been removed, and the field bore no resemblance to what your memories thought it should look like.  The only green in the outfield was weeds; the grass was long since dead.  The turf that was designed to withstand downpours to remain playable also meant that the field needed continuous drinks...and that's something that a closed ballpark doesn't need.  Even if you brought in truckloads of new sod, that wouldn't fix the field as a tractor show last year left the field rutted.

You saw all the different mismatches of the various expansions of the stadium, now that the seating and wrapping had been removed.  ESPN's Mitch Sherman said that the final viewing of Rosenblatt was wrong, and he's absolutely right.  There really wasn't a point to doing it, other than to say you stood on the field.  Except it wasn't that field anymore.  Someone dug up some of the sod the Omaha Nighthawks laid down on the infield to rough in some basepaths...and even tried to build something that kind of resembled a pitching mound.  Then they hung up a "Storm Chasers" flag in the outfield for some reason.

The effect was like makeup on Tammy Faye Baker.  A garish insult on the memories.  This was not how one should remember Rosenblatt.  Remember that final College World Series game.  Remember the final Omaha Royals game.  Remember those Nighthawks football games when it looked like minor league football would work in Omaha.  Happy memories.  Not this.

Or wait until next year when the new Infield at the Zoo opens up.  It'll be Little League sized, which will be perfect for families to create all sorts of new pleasant memories.  The grass will be bright green, and the enough of Rosenblatt will be retained to spark those memories.  Is it the same exact thing?  No...but don't forget, the field that South Carolina won a CWS title on two years ago isn't the same field that Roger Clemens played on.  Renovations in the early 1990's moved home plate 12 feet out so that additional seating could be added.

But don't remember Rosenblatt for what it was as they tore it down.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is the NBA Real?

I admit it; I don't follow the NBA anymore.  About 20 years ago, I checked out on the league.  Not the sport; I still watch college basketball.  But the professional version jumped the shark back in the 90's, going from athletic competition to entertainment.  Almost WWE like, though not quite as over the top.  (Well, Shaquille O'Neill's introduction in the 2009 All-Star Game was straight out of the WWE's script.)

We've even heard allegations that the league is fixed.  But this year, the insinuation seems to be growing even stronger. It seems that I see and hear more and more buzz that the league is fixed lately.  The latest allegations revolve around the league's draft lottery, and today, it melted down on the Jim Rome radio show.

Can it be proven?  Hardly.  But it seems these suspicions are becoming harder and harder to dimiss as they become more and more prevalent.  Which raises my question for NBA fans:  would you be satisified if the NBA morphed to a WWE format, where it's more of an entertainment activity than a competition?  Or should the NBA take all of these suspicions and accusations as a serious threat to the viability of the league?  Or is it much-to-do-about-nothing?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Former UNO Maverick Scott Parse Hoists Lord Stanley's Cup

Scott Parse missed most of the season after undergoing hip surgery in November.  He only played in nine games this season for the Los Angeles Kings.  But he was part of the team, and so got to take part in the greatest trophy presentation and celebration in sports today last night.  The Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils 6-1 on Monday night to win the Stanley Cup Final four games to two.  And Parse got to put on his uniform and hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
Photo Courtesy of UNO via Facebook

No word as to whether Parse will get his name on the Cup, as he only played nine games this year.  But he is the first UNO player to play on a Stanley Cup winning team.

And while many fans feel that winning the Super Bowl or a World Series title is more noteworthy, there's no denying that the awarding of the Stanley Cup is the greatest ceremony. It's certainly more reverential, and there is no greater joy for a hockey player than to be able to hoist it over your head on the ice. The alcohol will almost certainly follow later, but on the ice, it's simply a profound expression of joy.

Congratulations to Scott...and if he gets a chance to have a day with the Cup, here's a selfish wish that he considers spending it in Omaha.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Omaha, A Major League City?

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald observed Oklahoma City preparing to host the NBA Finals and wondered on Sunday whether Omaha could be a major league city.  At first glance, it's easy to wonder what if.  Green Bay has the Packers, and Oklahoma City now has the Thunder.  Why not Omaha?

It's nice to dream, but I firmly believe that the circumstances that brought major league sports to Green Bay and Oklahoma City are the exception, rather than the rule.  Certainly Green Bay couldn't get a franchise today...not when Los Angeles doesn't have an NFL franchise. And if it weren't for Hurricane Katrina, would the Thunder even exist today?  Would they still be in Seattle?  Or in another market?

The Thunder came to Oklahoma City thanks to billionaire Clay Bennett funding the tab:  $350 million in 2006 to buy the Seattle franchise, $45 million in 2008 to move the franchise immediately, and unless Seattle gets a new NBA franchise by next year, another $30 million.  Sure, Warren Buffett and Walter Scott certainly have the resources to buy a franchise, but would they have the interest?  I just don't see it.

Could the Omaha market support a pro sports team?  Maybe, though I'm skeptical.  NBA?  Well, Creighton has proven you can draw 16,000 to watch mid-major college basketball...so that's a possibility.  But are Omahans prepared to pay $2400 a seat for a season ticket?  I don't see it, frankly.  But I could be proven wrong.

The NHL might come at a lower ticket price, but while Omaha has shown themselves to be a good hockey town, it's not a great hockey town.  UNO hockey hasn't yet been able to tap the general sports fan for the most part so far.

The NFL?  We love football in Omaha, but not only would the tickets be very expensive, someone would have to fund a billion dollar stadium.  I just don't see it.

Major League Baseball?  Again, someone would have to pay to expand TD Ameritrade Park to Major League size...and any prospective owner would have to be willing to spend money on salaries, unlike the Wal-mart franchise 180 miles to the south.

It's fun to dream...but that's all the talk of a professional sports franchise in Omaha is.  A dream.  Maybe there's a niche to allow a lesser pro franchise to relocate here (Major League Soccer, Arena Football), but none of the major four sports franchises.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Steve Johnson Hire at UNO Implies Blais Longevity

UNO hired St. Cloud State assistant coach Steve Johnson to replace Mike Hastings on Tuesday. Johnson brings a resume similar to Hastings' to UNO.  He's the fourth winningest coach in USHL history (Hastings is the winningest), and Johnson has two years experience as a college assistant. Hastings only had one season at Minnesota before returning to Omaha to join the Mavs staff.

Johnson has a history with Dean Blais; Blais was a North Dakota assistant during Johnson's playing career, and later was a graduate assistant during Blais' first season as head coach of the Sioux. And Johnson replaced Blais as head coach of the Fargo Force when Blais took the UNO job.  So it makes sense that Blais hired Johnson.

What doesn't make sense is that this hire took seven weeks to make. I still believe that some of that delay can be attributed to Penticton's Fred Harbinson.  Penticton's season stretched into mid-May with the Vees run to the Canadian national championship.  But even that was three weeks ago.  So I tend to believe that Johnson wasn't Blais' first choice. That doesn't make him a bad choice to be a UNO assistant coach.

What excited me about the hire isn't Johnson's background.  He's got a nice record with Lincoln, and I'm sure he'll do fine.  He might even shore up the Mavs power play, which was dismal last season.  What excites me is his job title.

Assistant Coach.

Not "Associate Head Coach"...and certainly not "Heir Apparent."  That's great news in my mind.  I never understood the infatuation by some Mike Hastings' supporters that he was "associate head coach" and the "heir apparent."  Qualified to be the lead UNO assistant coach?  Yes.  Qualified to be associate head coach?  Probably, if Dean Blais felt so.

The "head coach in waiting"?  Nope. Not with only one year of experience as a college assistant, when this first came up.  And more importantly, I wanted to concentrate on where Dean Blais was going to take this program...not on who was going to take over for him.  The rumors about Blais' retiring kept springing up in recent years, and I think that's somewhat unsettling to the program.

Now Hastings is in Mankato, and there is no designate.  Some rumors had Blais retiring in two years and handing the reigns to Johnson.  Well, Blais is holding out a new title for Johnson in a couple of years...but it's not head coach.  As Blais told the World-Herald:
“That (associate head coach) could be out there in a couple of years, depending on our success."
Music to my ears.  We can now stop worrying about how long Blais is going to coach.  Blais isn't worried about a successor right now; he's concerned about winning hockey games.  And that's something I expect to start happening a lot, starting this season.  Blais' first real recruiting class will be juniors this season; I expect they'll be ready to bounce back this season and contend this year.  I think Blais wants to see this thing through as well.  Yeah, he could get run over by a Zamboni or fall out of a bass boat this summer...but I think Blais is sending a message that he's not in the retiring mode yet.

And that's the best news of all with this hire.

Good Lord Does Google Chrome Suck

A few weeks ago, I switched over to Google Chrome on an older laptop. It seemed to run a little better on an older laptop of mine, and everything seemed to work right, so I thought all was fine in the world.

Then I went back and read some old posts here on the blog...and realized that when I used Chrome to copy a quote from another article, it copied everything from the other site...including the background of the web site.

And typically, those backgrounds are white.  My Blogger template (powered by Google, I might add) has a black background.  So what do we get?  White text on a white background.

In other words, illegible.  It was coming through just fine through some of my news readers, which ignored the formatting.  But not on the site.  I'll fix the errors, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

Boy, does Google Chrome suck.  Not as bad as Internet Explorer, mind you.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Monday Lunch: Big XII Points Blame towards Mizzou

An interesting aside from Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman about college realignment:
When all the turmoil over realignment the previous two years was brought up, one Big 12 school official piped up, "Well, Missouri was the first to throw their panties on the field." 
Certainly Missouri started it when Governor Jay Nixon practically seceded from the Big XII in 2009, but let's make something clear.  Big XII instability started - and ended - in Austin. Not Columbia.  Not Jefferson City. Not Lincoln.  Not College Station.  And absolutely not Boulder.  (That idea is just plain ridiculous.)  When Texas started flirting with the Big Ten, it drew Nebraska's concern.  When Texas started flirting with the Pac-10, it was every school for themselves. And when Texas started pushing their way with the Longhorn Network, it sent Texas A&M off to the SEC and created an opening for Missouri to escape as well.

So while it might be good to point the blame at the outgoing schools, the remaining Big XII schools are well suited to worry about the danger that still remains. Glad to see revisionist thinking continues in the Big XII.  Last year, it was "blame Nebraska"...this year, it's "blame Missouri."  (And where the panty fetish came from, I don't want to know.)

Maybe Bob Bowlsby can get the Big XII to public admit what the rest of the world knows:  Blame Austin for the Big XII's problems.

I was watching the Cubs/Giants game on Friday night as Melky Cabrera was pounding the Cubs, and I had to wonder just what the Royals got in exchange for the National League's leading hitter. So I looked it up...and they got squat. The Royals got what they could get:  a broken down left-handed pitcher (who was in rehab in Sarpy County) and a minor leaguer.  And the Giants get an MVP candidate.  Why did the Royals make the trade, and why do baseball minds still think it was the right trade for the Royals?  It comes down to money.  When Cabrera's contract expires, he'll be up for a big contract ... and the Royals aren't going to play that game.

So while the Royals may have lots of up-and-coming players that give Kansas City fans reasons for optimism, let's not forget that, in the end, nothing has changed in Kansas City.  Those players, if they prove to be as talented as people think they are, will spend the best years of there careers elsewhere.  The Wal-Mart philosophy continues unchanged.  Don't get your hopes up...you know where this story ends, Royals fans, until someone else buys the team.

(And yes, before anyone mentions it, the Cubs are putrid this season.  It's clear that Theo Epstein was more focused last winter on building his organization than trying to salvage the 2012 season for Chicago.)

Nice to see another sports radio station in town on KOIL-1180 AM.  In recent weeks, I had started to wonder why KOZN-1620 AM chose Fox Sports Radio instead of Rivals/Yahoo Radio as their affiliation.  I guess it was to get Jim Rome...but that's an awfully high price to pay. Especially since Jim Rome has been running his tired schtick pretty much unchanged since the last century. So now Omaha gets both.  That's a win-win.  Though I guess a handful of right-wing politicos will miss Neal Boortz, Dennis Miller, or Bill Bennett.

The rumor mill is warming up to suggest that St. Cloud State assistant coach Steve Johnson will be named as an assistant coach for UNO hockey as soon as today.  We'll see.  This rumor comes with the same "head-coach-in-waiting" designation that Mike Hastings had.  We'll see about that.  I still maintain that when it comes time for Dean Blais to retire, that's a decision that should be made at that time.  Johnson (or Hastings) for that matter might be candidates, but in no way should that decision be made now.  These "head coach in waiting" designations don't seem to work out well anyway.  Remember Will Muschamp at Texas?  Well, he's now at Florida.

So some will speculate on that; I'll ignore it.  Yeah, yeah, sure sure.  Go away, please.