Ashes, bleacher 'creatures' and all the quirkiness that embodies Omaha's College World Series

People flocking from all over the country (many from the bayous with food to share) to a spectacle in which somehow Omaha magically becomes the place to be.

I can neither confirm nor deny the rumor that an Omaha man’s ashes were sprinkled into the dirt behind home plate at TD Ameritrade Park.

But I believe it happened. Because Omaha has an undying love for this summer festival they call the College World Series, and it can get a little wacky in a folksy-Omaha kinda way.

True, a lot of the hoopla is orchestrated, generated for the NCAA and TV. But a lot of it is organic, brewed from the chemistry of summer, baseball and people flocking from all over the country (many from the bayous with food to share) to a spectacle in which somehow our normally modest, self- deprecating, slightly above-average city magically becomes THE place to be.

Kids line up for players’ autographs and scramble for foul balls in the stands during practice. Throngs of young people with the bodies for sleeveless T-shirts or Daisy Duke shorts roam the stadium to see and be seen. Middle-aged people renew friendships formed at the series over many years, decades even, at tailgate barbecues and in blistering stadium seats.

Hooding ceremony

The flamingos perched in the south lot of Rosenblatt took on a different look in 2002: hoods for all the losing birds. Mark Samstad, who is one of the "professional" tailgaters at the parking lot, said they were looking for a different idea for the birds last year and came up with this idea. 

The CWS chemistry produced the self-proclaimed Professional Tailgaters and their plastic pink flamingos. These guys from Omaha and across the country met for the series every year. They had a flamingo for every team. As each team was eliminated, as many as 100 people would gather for a “hooding ceremony” in which the tailgaters covered a flamingo’s head and played “Taps” on kazoos.

Baseball god-less heathens ransacked the Tailgaters’ encampment outside Rosenblatt one year. Strangers pitched in and bought them a new shade tent and pink plastic drink straws.

It’s tradition for Omahans to pick favorite teams then root for them with the zeal of converts, the ardor of summer lovers, the goofiness of fans who long for a baseball player to throw them a ball or a batting glove.

I was there in 1997, when fans in Rosenblatt Stadium’s left-field bleachers (known by security as the creatures) fell for a Mississippi State left fielder named Rusty Thoms.

They chanted his name. Girls made T-shirts that said “Rusty.” A group of guys spelled out his name on their bare chests. Rusty threw bubble gum to them. He returned their stray beach balls before the grounds crew could pop them. Rusty’s mom came out and sat with the creatures as they chanted his name and sang “root root root for RUSTY” during the seventh-inning stretch.

I also was there when beloved former CWS public address announcer Jack Payne used to tell fans in the bleachers to “scooch up and get to know your neighbor” to make room for people coming in as the late great Lambert Bartak played “You Are My Sunshine” on the stadium’s Hammond organ. Omahans aren’t normally the type to share sweat with strangers, but we scooched.

I was not there when the ashes were allegedly sprinkled at TD Ameritrade. I heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend, who was there.

A long-time CWS season- ticket holder told his seatmates behind home plate that when he died, he wanted them to make a little part of him a part of the stadium in that particular way. Then he died.

The way the story goes, his buddies smuggled a portion of his ashes into the ballpark, and with all appropriate ceremony gave them a final resting place in baseball heaven. Which, by the way, is where this match of the CWS and Omaha was made.

Cue the organ music. It’s time for more stories to be made.

Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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