Mindy McNurlin was curious about what was going on where Rosenblatt Stadium had stood since 1948.
The 22-year-old from Papillion walked slowly by the memorial honoring the stadium after a Thursday trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. It was a pleasant reminder of when she used to go to College World Series games with her dad.
She peered into the park as workers power-washed the new rubber basepaths and cleaned off the concourse.
Johnny Rosenblatt's Infield at the Zoo, a memorial for the stadium that played host to the CWS for 60 years, the Omaha Royals, rock concerts and countless high school games, has trees and seats that surround a Little League-size infield. Home plate sits right where home plate was situated at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I think it's just a nice way to remember the old stadium,” McNurlin said. “I'm glad to see it's not just a parking lot for the zoo.”
The stadium was named for Johnny Rosenblatt, a former mayor of Omaha. Friday morning, his great-grandson Josh Rosenblatt, 9, tossed out the first pitch to his grandfather Steve Rosenblatt, 74, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially mark the park's opening.
“The place is spectacular,” Steve Rosenblatt said. “We'll be a benchmark for how to preserve things.”
The event also featured speeches by Gov. Dave Heineman, Mayor Jim Suttle, City Councilman Garry Gernandt, zoo officials and Jack Diesing Jr., president of CWS of Omaha Inc.
“We've been anticipating this for a long time,'' said John Boyer, president of the Omaha Zoological Society. “We thought it was important to preserve history.''
Heineman stressed the importance of honoring Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I'm very glad that we're preserving this structure,'' he said.
“It's very important to Omaha and to South Omaha,” where his wife grew up, the governor added.
Suttle called the zoo a world-class attraction, and he added that “today we are witnesses to two (the zoo and Rosenblatt) of the city's most cherished'' institutions.
Gernandt recalled his early years as a 10-year-old at Rosenblatt. Then he glanced at the zoo's director and said: “Mr. Pate, the zoo knows how to do things right. You did right by the (Rosenblatt) family and you did right by the zoo.”
The zoo purchased the stadium's grounds in 2011 for $12 million. The stadium was torn down last year to make room for 1,035 parking spaces and the new park, zoo Director and CEO Dennis Pate said.
The CWS is now played just north of downtown at spacious TD Ameritrade Park, and the Royals, now known as the Storm Chasers, play ball at Werner Park in Sarpy County.
Bricks from the entrance of Rosenblatt Stadium line the new concourse of the shrunken field, and the structure, with the iconic peaked roof above the old grandstand, is painted the same shade of blue as the old stadium. The Rosenblatt arch that sat on top of the stadium's scoreboard marks the new attraction.
Red, yellow and blue seats are lined up outside the baselines in another nod to the stadium. The yellow foul poles still stand at the edge of the new parking lot to give people a sense of how big the field was.
“We just tried to pull any element we could out of the old stadium to evoke an emotional attachment to Rosenblatt,” Pate said.
The project cost about $600,000, paid entirely through donations.
But just because so much money was poured into the project and so many aspects were borrowed from the old stadium doesn't mean Pate believes the memorial replaces Rosenblatt Stadium.
“It's not Rosenblatt,” Pate said. “It never will be. But at least there's a place you can come and remember it.”
Omaha couple Jason and Jennifer Fischer never had a chance to attend a game there, even though they both wanted to. Despite that, they still see the stadium as an icon and miss its presence.
“I understand the zoo needed parking,” Jennifer Fischer said. “I just wish there was a way they could've kept the stadium.”