Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Replacing Rosenblatt Still The Correct Decision

The dearth of home runs during this year's College World Series raised a lot of attention and criticism towards TD Ameritrade Park.  Does the southeastern alignment turn the prevailing southeasterly breezes into home run eaters than enablers?  Yes, to some extent.  But the ballpark change wasn't the only change to college baseball that season.  The bats were dialed down in 2011, which coincidentally matched the first season in the new downtown ballpark. And even before the NCAA regionals began, the LA Times noted the difference:
"Balls that might have gone 10 feet over the fence are landing 10 feet in front," UC Irvine Coach Mike Gillespie said. "It just dies and comes down like one of those parachute toys."
Again, this was June 1, 2011, and before the first College World Series game was played that year. The problem isn't so much the ballpark, but the bats.  Tom Shatel realized this during last week's Home Run Derby.
OK, so I went to the Home Run Derby last week at TD Ameritrade. And let me tell you: It's not the fences. Not the park. Not the direction of home plate. Not the baseball seams. It's those ever-loving, ever-radioactive, wired-for-distance bats.The college kids in that derby faced batting practice pitches. But when they connected, they were launching July 3 rockets into the bleachers and on occasion over the bleachers and into the concession stands.
During the series, a lot of pundits expressed their outrage over the lack of home runs and tried to pin it on the stadium. While they didn't come out and say it, the unspoken message was clear: the new stadium was a mistake.

Except it's not.  There's a lot of romance associated with the CWS at Rosenblatt.  But it wasn't because of the stadium, it was in spite of it.  Rosenblatt wasn't the source of the magic, the magic occurred because of the event.  And while Rosenblatt was stretched to fit the CWS, it was stretched to the limit.

ESPN's Kyle Peterson found this article from the Baton Rouge Advocate that revisited all of the furor from the Rosenblatt debate five years ago.  It strikes a blow at all of the myths that have been perpetuated over why the new stadium was built:
  • The NCAA, not Mike Fahey, asked for the new stadium, recognizing that Rosenblatt was stretched to it's limits.
  • The NCAA was thinking about leaving Omaha rather than stay at Rosenblatt.
 “We looked at it (remodeling Rosenblatt) as a short-term fix,” said Larry Templeton, who served as the chair of the NCAA’s baseball committee. “We really also had the conversation of, ‘Is this the time to start moving the championship around?’

Two weeks ago, I did something that was virtually impossible to do prior to 2011... visit the Zoo during the CWS. In order to accommodate everybody who packs into the Zoo during the summertime, Zoo crowds spill over into the Rosenblatt lots...except, of course, during the CWS, when those lots are reserved for baseball fans. That kept people away from the Zoo during the Series, until the Series moved downtown.

So after a morning of checking out the sea monkeys, giraffes, lions, tigers, and bears, we headed home. We had hoped to stop at Zesto's, but that landmark is closed because of a plumbing issue.  (Please reopen! Nothing tops off a trip to the Zoo on a hot day like a hot fudge shake.)  But we did stop at the "Infield at the Zoo".  We grabbed my kids wiffle ball bats, and had a great time, making our own memories at the site of so many other great memories.  My daughter did her own re-enactment of Warren Morris' legendary home run, and even though it barely went 30 feet, it was the highlight of their day.

While we were there, Mississippi State fans were gathering around the field. We loaned them our wiffle ball bats, and they posed, ala Will Clark, at home plate to re-enact their own memories. Last year's final viewing of Rosenblatt was sad, this grand reopening was truly a rebirth. And frankly, it's something I suspect my kids will want to do again and again, whenever we go back to the Zoo.

Some longtime College World Series fans will no doubt sadly channel Joni Mitchell as they realize that the outfield has now been paved, to "put up a parking lot". The foul lines and poles still exist, burnished into the concrete.  Small pedestals mark the bases, and the outfield restrooms are being renovated for use by zoo visitors. Except it wasn't really paradise.  The old stadium had truly served it's purpose for many, many years, but it was time for a change.

Certainly a lot of memories happened at 13th and Bert Murphy Drive in the past.  But based on my family's experience two weeks ago, memories will continue to be made at the "new" Rosenblatt. Really, we got the ultimate win-win.  The NCAA got a new stadium.  Omaha got a 25 year commitment for the College World Series.  The Zoo got badly needed space to expand.

No doubt about it, replacing Rosenblatt was clearly the right decision.

1 comment:

Rik Hooper said...

That was like the worst CWS ever