Now that the old Yankee Stadium is gone, few parks outside of Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park can claim that they have more history than Omaha’s Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. And soon, it too will be no more.
Opened in 1947, Rosenblatt Stadium is older than any Major League ballpark save the homes of the Red Sox and Cubs. With seating for 25,500, it’s the largest non-MLB stadium in the country, and the current park of the Omaha Royals, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.
However, it is surely Rosenblatt’s affiliation with the College World Series that makes it not only regionally famous, but a must-see destination on any true baseball fan’s lifetime fields list. Our advice for those who haven’t checked it off yet? Hurry up. Rosenblatt Stadium might be called out as early as 2010, with the razed lot used for additional parking at the adjacent Henry Doorly Zoo.
So, what makes Rosenblatt Stadium so special? Why will so many Omahans be sad to see it go? Start with almost 60 years of College World Series games. Begun in 1950, the annual field of 288 collegiate baseball teams is whittled down to a field of 64 for the NCAA tournament. The final 8 meet for 10 days of baseball at Rosenblatt. Since its humble beginnings, over 7,000,000 fans have witnessed a College World Series game at the stadium, and our guess is that not more than a handful left unhappy. One of the beauties of Rosenblatt Stadium is that there is hardly a bad seat in the house. Though some views behind home plate are partially obstructed, most fans enjoy an intimate experience. Many of the seats are covered, protecting fans from rain, and a gentle night breeze is known to cool down the uncovered fans farther down the foul line and in the general admission outfield.
Like many older parks, Rosenblatt also has its fair share of character. From the iconic “Road to Omaha” statue in front, to the to the heaping and not-too-terribly priced bloomin’ onions sold, almost in secret, at just one stand in the front of the stadium, Rosenblatt has an understated ambience in line with a mid-sized Midwestern city like Omaha. Many of the fans at Rosenblatt for the Series are local or have been making the pilgrimage for years. Beer sales are forbidden, and the stands brim with hopeful high school sluggers, cheering teenage girls, and quite a few fans years younger than that. Often, a visitor to Rosenblatt gets the impression that everyone not wearing a shirt or hat bearing a specific affiliation simply cheers for good, honest, well-played baseball, regardless of which team was playing it.
About the only negativity in the place can be heard in the good-natured boos the fans vociferously levy on any ball girl who fails to catch a foul coming off of the backstop’s protective netting. That, and the time organist Lambert Bartak was ejected for taunting the umpire with the theme to the “Mickey Mouse Club,” one of only two organists ever to be removed from play. My guess: despite this, the players lined up to shake hands at the end of the game anyway, just like they always do.
In addition to the College World Series, the stadium has also been home to four pro franchises: their current tenant, the Royals, a Dodgers affiliate, and two incarnations of Cardinals teams. The Royals, now members of the expanded Pacific Coast League, have called Rosenblatt home since their inception in 1969.
Unfortunately, despite being four time league champs, the minor league club struggles to fill what is, by non-MLB standards, a very large ballpark. Of course, the College World Series has the opposite problem. Despite the addition of 10,000 seats as recently as 2001, it looks like plans to press ahead and build a new downtown Omaha stadium for the Series are likely. A second, smaller park, whose plans are in the works, might give the Royals the more intimate feeling they desire.
Either way, as movements to save the stadium have thus far proved unsuccessful, it looks like Rosenblatt Stadium’s days are numbered. Enjoy it while you can.