April Vanderhook never has to pressure her husband, Rick, about visits to her hometown.
Not when she's from Omaha, and he's the head baseball coach at Cal State Fullerton.
"Every June, it's where you are supposed to go,'' Rick Vanderhook says.
The coach has made the trip to Omaha for the College World Series 11 times, 10 with the Titans as a player and assistant coach and once with UCLA, where he was an assistant for three seasons before being named head coach at Fullerton in June.
Vanderhook, 50, won a CWS title in 1984 while playing catcher for the Titans. He was an assistant in 1994 when he met April at the Jones Street Brewery in the Old Market.
Their first meeting was nothing movies are made of, Rick said. He and some other coaches and boosters were getting something to eat and watching a game. April was sitting at the next table with some other Creighton nursing students.
"Both of our tables ended up talking and mixing up and meeting each other,'' April said. "I wanted to come to some games, and he kept reserving tickets. I guess we just kept talking.''
April took Rick to the Henry Doorly Zoo, the ConAgra campus and Boys Town.
April's father, Jack Annin, was a policeman and a former athlete. April, part of the first graduating class at Millard South in 1982 and a former cheerleader, remembers she and Rick had a lot in common. He was funny and down to earth and easy to talk to.
"We knew about the same sort of things. I was a cheerleader, and being from Nebraska, you know I loved football,'' she said from California. "Every time Nebraska comes out here, I still come to games. We just talked about sports. We hit it off.''
Rick came back to Omaha for April's graduation. He remembers taking a few spills on the winter visit, losing his national championship ring after a tumble on some black ice.
"When the snow melted, the police found it,'' he said. "I actually got my same ring back.''
April traveled to California to take the nursing boards after graduating from Creighton. She had so much fun that she stayed, and she and Rick were married in 1995.
Sixteen years later, they have three children. Daughters Noelle and Autumn do dance and cheerleading like their mom.
The youngest, 11-year-old R.J., plays baseball and went to his first game when he was just a few weeks old. Some of his best babysitters were UCLA players, April said. Last year, he skipped his all-star game so he could go to the CWS, his sixth trip in seven years.
As important as that trip home is, April, now a high school biology teacher, doesn't like to bring it up as the CWS nears. She figures Rick's already under enough stress about making it back.
But there's lots of talk with brothers Dick and Andy and her best friend, Dawn Evans, back home.
"My whole family is texting. 'How you doing, where are we at,' '' April said. "We're all excited. They are in contact, hoping I get back.''
The kids can't wait for what they assume will be an annual pilgrimage. They love connecting with their cousins, and Omaha's zoo is one of their favorite places to visit.
"I'm not only going to get pressure from boosters and fans, I get it at home, too,'' Rick said. "It's more the kids than her. The kids like to come back.''
While many of their baseball seasons together have finished in fun trips to Omaha, April said, she becomes almost a single mom during the season. While Rick was making the 2 ½-hour commute to UCLA the past few years, she was getting three kids to all of their activities.
Fullerton is just 10 minutes from their home; she'll be able to get to a lot more games. and Rick will be able to catch more of R.J.'s.
Being from Nebraska, she said, she can't help but be a vocal fan of her husband's team.
"The fun part is getting to meet lots of people and the excitement of the game,'' she said.
Fullerton hasn't been to Omaha since 2009, and Vanderhook says he'll need to shore up a thin pitching staff to get there next June.
No matter what happens, April is thrilled with her husband's new job.
"I'm just proud of him,'' she said. "I'm just so happy for him. I know this has been his dream for so long.''
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