For over 40 years I’ve wanted to get the College World Series in Omaha, where the CWS has been hosted since 1950. I used to joke with our former radio announcer, the late Raeldon Palmer, at the end of each year that we had to quit lying to our wives about taking them to Omaha. My wife and I were only able to attend the opening game of the 2017 CWS, but here are a few of my impressions in case some of you never get the opportunity to attend.
PRESS CONFERENCE: The press conference announced me as the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Wilbur Snypp Award winner along with Oregon State’s Pat Casey as NCBWA coach of the year, and Louisville’s Lincoln Henzman and Brendan McKay as NCBWA Stopper of the Year and Dick Howser Trophy recipient, respectively. Henzman was selected in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Chicago White Sox. McKay was the No. 4 overall MLB draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former BYU baseball coaches Glen Tuckett and Gary Pullins were in town for board meetings with the American Baseball Coaches Association and attended the press conference.
PRESS BOX: The CWS press box is a working press box, but my family got to tour it briefly before and during the opening game thanks to the two one-day passes provided me because of my award. Inside the press box on the fourth level of the stadium I got to meet up again with one of our former interns, Lorie Garnett, who volunteered to work the CWS, taking time off from her master’s business program at nearby University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Riding the elevator up to the press box I heard the announcers even make reference to former quarterback Gifford Nielsen, giving credit to him playing at BYU as well as for the Houston Oilers.
TICKETS: Because I had other members of my family in attendance for my award, I needed tickets to attend the opening game due to the NCAA’s no complimentary ticket policy, which I didn’t fully understand until a couple days before my arrival in Omaha. So I scrambled and found three tickets in section 301 down the right field line.
T-SHIRT: I purchased T-shirts both at the CWS and at the NCAA Regional at Stanford. A difference I noticed was the brand sold at the CWS compared to a similar shirt I had purchased at Stanford.
NEWSPAPER COVERAGE: The Omaha World Herald does a spectacular job from what I saw. The pre-CWS paper had three special multi-page sections in addition to front page and sports page stories.
AIRPORTS: Eppley Airfield is Omaha’s airport, but it is actually located across the state line in Iowa. Years ago I flew into that airport from Salt Lake City via Phoenix because there is no direct flight from Utah. That problem exists for other parts of the country as well. Some of the people who hosted me had flown in from Texas, West Virginia and Florida. This time I flew to Kansas City where four of my grandchildren reside, then I drove up to Omaha. I learned some of my hosts also flew into Kansas City because of easier flights. My driver on the shuttle at MCI in Kansas City thought the “Y” on my shirt stood for Yale, but was quickly corrected by other Utah-bound passengers before another patron boarded, saying “Go Utes,” as he passed by me. Amongst the CWS crowd we noticed two fans sporting University of Utah and Weber State University gear.
FINAL FOUR vs. CWS: Earlier this year I took a rare break from covering BYU baseball to have a reunion with my brothers at the men’s basketball Final Four in Phoenix. While the Final Four draws thousands more people, there are throngs of fans flocking around the NCAA and marketing venues that surround both events. At Omaha, fans form a line around TD Ameritrade Park. I first thought that line was forming to get one of the bobble head promotionals, but had to battle through a similar line of LSU-Florida State fans after they cleared the stadium from the Oregon State-Cal State Fullerton game.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: The CWS was my 10th NCAA championship event I’ve attended. I’ve previously attended three for men’s basketball, two for men’s golf, two for track and field, one for cross country and one for men’s volleyball.
WEATHER: The forecast was hot and muggy, but we caught a break with the overcast skies and a breeze that required us to watch that our caps didn't blow away and prevented more homers going out of the park. So the weather was perfect for the opening game. The Fan Fest and fireworks scheduled the night before was canceled due to the high winds and rain. I saw evidence of that on nearby I-29 where a microburst left insulation from a destroyed building along the freeway littered with broken branches. Driving back to Kansas City that night we got caught in a driving rainstorm, thinking the Florida State-LSU game surely was postponed since it was raining when we exited TD Ameritrade Park. But that game went on as scheduled.
RESTAURANTS: There is an extensive list of restaurants in the Omaha World-Herald World Series edition, but my Nebraska dental grad brother and his wife took us to a famed Italian restaurant not mentioned. The fare was good and baseball aficionados Tommy Lasorda and Kevin Coster had dined there in earlier years.
CAL STATE FULLERTON: BYU could trace a path to the 2017 CWS via Cal State Fullerton, who won four true road games in the NCAA Regionals to get to Omaha. Then the Titans lost their first two games in Omaha to No. 1 Oregon State, after leading 5-1, until they replaced the same All-American pitcher who defeated the Cougars; and twice led Florida State. Just as I had observed at Stanford when CSF beat BYU, its sports information director was not often in the press box, but working elsewhere in those respective stadiums.
BYU AND OMAHA: BYU made two appearances in the College World Series in 1968 and 1971, both won by USC. In 1958 and 1961, BYU didn’t get to go to the College World Series because of Sunday play, even though the Cougars had qualified—that rule has since changed. USC won the CWS both of those years, too. BYU lost earlier in 1961 at USC, but ended that season with a 24-game winning streak. Northern Colorado went to the CWS both those years in place of BYU. The Cougars also lost in 1968 and 1971 at USC, but did register a victory against the Trojans in one of those 1968 games at Los Angeles.
BYU BASEBALL AT TD AMERITRADE: In 2012 BYU played one game at TD Ameritrade Park when it lost to Creighton 2-0. Tanner Chauncey and Mason Marshall played in that contest, but no home runs were hit by Creighton. In 2015, Colton Shaver belted seven dingers in the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park. Since the CWS moved from heralded Rosenblatt Stadium, that park has seen the following home runs totals: 2011-9; 2012-10; 2013-3; 2014-3; 2015-15; 2016-10; and 2017-23.