How do I love the College World Series? Let me count the ways — past, present and future:
I love the first weekend. There's such an energy when the teams are new and everyone is undefeated, eight dreams still alive. Walking to the stadium on the first day is an adrenaline rush.
If only we could capsule that moment for the entire week. And year.
I loved the CWS when it began on a Friday and ended on the second Saturday. That Friday opener was like a holiday in Omaha. It seemed like the entire city was off work.
Then knowing it would end with a single game at noon on a Saturday was utter perfection. There was Sunday to recuperate for those who needed it. OK, all of us who needed it.
I love the T-shirt tents. When I was growing up and going to baseball stadiums, theywere called souvenirs. There were magical stands, with rows of colorful hats of all the major league teams, pennants, buttons, batting helmets and bobbleheads. The classic bobbleheads, like the Pirate head with the eye patch or the Cardinal bird head.
The CWS merchandise and T-shirt tents remind me of those days. Most of them have hats of virtually every college team and some the official hats of the CWS teams. Some have team jerseys. There are rows of T-shirts, and most of the tents have the same designs, but it's always worth checking each one to make sure.
The tentswere spread all around the Rosenblatt Stadium neighborhood before, but now they're organized in the Baseball Village. That's one of the things that's better about the new setup.
I used to buy a CWS shirt every year, but then you grow up and get married and have kids. Now I buy those shirts in small and medium sizes. Funny, I get more pleasure out of it now.
I would love the CWS even more if they had some of the old souvenirs. OK, like plastic batting helmets.
Those were the absolute best souvenirs ever made. If the merchandise companies invested in plastic batting helmets, theywould be gone the first weekend. And you'd see a lot of dads and granddads ordering two — one for their kids and one for them.
One more: I would love the NCAA and CWS, Inc. to sponsor giveaway nights. OK, a CWS bobblehead.
They used to have batting helmet and bat nights in major league stadiums. I won't suggest bat nights. In this day and age, souvenirs might become weapons.
I used to love the CWS characters. Like the Miami Hurricanes mascot. The LSU Louisiana chef walking around the tailgate parties spreading his love. The Texan with the Cadillac convertible with the longhorns for a hood ornament.
I loved the CWS for the colorful, wacky coaches. Augie Garrido. Skip Bertman. Rod Dedeaux. Ron Fraser. Gene Stephenson. Last but never least: Mike Martin.
Some could have run for mayor of Omaha; others were like Darth Vader. College baseball had so many larger-than-life coaches, men who were characters and had character. They always made the CWS a bigger and better event.
Maybe it's because we don't get the same teams as much as we used to, and maybe it's because there's more money and pressure in the college game. But you don't have those characters like you used to. Tim Tadlock might be one of them. I miss those guys.
I loved the CWS because a school like Rice could never win the national title in football or basketball, but there they were in 2003, dogpiling at Rosenblatt. And Coastal Carolina. The CWS is a better event, more unique, because of that.
I love the CWS because of the fans. They are different here.
They aren't college football or basketball crazy. Most of the fans at a CWS game don't have a dog in the hunt. They want to see a good game, they want to see hustle, and they want to cheer everyone. And now that they can stand in line for beer, that doesn't seem to have fazed their sportsmanship one bit.
I love the CWS because of Russell Mendoza, my old LSU friend. I've told this story a million times and as long as I'm going to the CWS, I'll tell it a million more.
Mendoza used to follow the Tigers every year. Then one year he got cancer. His doctor advised him not to go.
Before he embarked on what would be his last trip, he said, "Doc, we don't know if the meds are going to work. But the College World Series always works." Loved that man.
I loved the CWS because of Greg Pivovar's Stadium View shop. It was like walking into a time capsule.
I'll never forget the time a couple from South Carolina walked in and wanted to get married there. Piv, an online pastor, performed the ceremony next to the Miami Hurricanes poster and the Earl Campbell Street sign. The time capsule is still open, because Piv keeps it open during the CWS.
See you soon, Piv.
I love the CWS because of the tailgating, which used to be lush and plentiful.
Some of my best memories of the CWS are walking through the old lot at Rosenblatt, taking in the sweet and smoky aromas and, at times, participating. Omaha would become one at those tailgates.
They don't have the same identity at the new place, though there's still a good grill community in Lots B and D. The bars around the stadium have added a dimension that fits a ballpark.
Bottom line, there's still chargrill smoke in the air.
I love the CWS because of what it means to Omaha.
There's a serious sense of pride and civic duty attached to this event. Some folks may not care about college baseball or know the teams, but they show up because this is the city's (to steal an NCAA phrase) "one shining moment." Now, that no longer may be true. There are other big sporting events that show off the city.
But nothing brings out city pride like the CWS. That's an old-school quality you don't always see in today's world. Even more reason to love it.
I love the CWS because of the food and the party. Omaha is a work-hard, play-hard town. The CWS shows us at our hospitable best.
I love the CWS because it's a chance to hear people get excited about coming to Omaha.
This is not a city that others seek out, and it's a city that gets knocked in comparison to others. We know it's a secret gem. But to hear players and coaches calling Omaha a "mecca" is still pretty cool.
I loved the old CWS logos that the NCAA would design, one for each year. I miss those, too.
The NCAA has gone with a generic trophy logo now for every year. It's boring. I suppose you could run out of logo ideas for each year. But I used to recognize each CWS by its logo. OK, I may need a hobby.
See you at the CWS.