The next week and a half will feature the country’s best college baseball teams slugging it out to win the College World Series. But Friday — well, Friday was all about the fans.

During the daylong celebration to kick off the CWS, families lined up for autographs, kids raced through the stands to catch foul balls and fans paused in front of TD Ameritrade Park for a selfie with the statue from the old Rosenblatt days.

As the sun dipped low in the sky that evening, fans of all eight teams lined Mike Fahey Street to cheer on a parade of players and coaches. Paul and April Sheridan, who live in the Millard area, brought their 10-year-old neighbor Hunter to see the action.

Listening to Paul Sheridan’s cheers during the parade, you’d never know he’s pulling for Michigan out of a sense of duty to the Big Ten Conference; he knew the fan chants of every team in the series.

“We welcome it,” he said of fan camaraderie. “It’s Omaha.”

For Ben Howell, attending the CWS is a “bucket list event.” Howell traveled to Omaha with his parents; his wife, Amanda; and 2-year-old son, William, from a town near Nashville to cheer on Vanderbilt.

“I’ve seen it on TV for years — from the old Rosenblatt Stadium. I can’t wait to see the stadium,” Howell said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

The Howells stopped by an NCAA merchandise tent near the stadium to look through souvenirs for William and picked up a mini bat — a popular choice among children enjoying Fan Fest.

Julie Gale, who has sold CWS merchandise for four years, said it’s too early to know which souvenir will be the fan favorite.

“There’s always going to be one top dog, we’re not sure which team that’ll be yet,” Gale said.

As Shaun Naidoo headed into the ballpark Friday, he was trailed by a dozen little leaguers: the Mesquite Rangers, a travel team of 11-year-olds from the Dallas area.

The Rangers, who also competed this week in the Little League games that coincide with the CWS, raised more than $12,000 to make it to Omaha for the first time. They planned to watch a pair of games this weekend — cheering for Texas Tech, of course — before returning home Monday.

Naidoo said he’s happy the young ballplayers will see college baseball at its peak — at “the pinnacle of what they’re trying to achieve.”

Jason Perez and his 12-year-old son Gavin were among fans lined up for the free autograph session after Texas Tech’s open practice, snagging an autograph from third baseman Josh Jung. The two traveled from Kansas City for their eighth CWS.

“It’s kind of a father-son trip,” Dad said.

Gavin chimed in: “I think it’s pretty fun coming here every year. Especially the fireworks.”

Jason Perez said baseball is big in the Perez family. Gavin plays on two teams, and Perez said his 7-year-old twins “will be playing ball pretty quick.”

The autograph session was one of many free activities offered through Fan Fest, a tournament-long “festival within a festival.”

Friday also featured former Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs and two-time World Series champion David Eckstein. The night ended with a performance by the Eli Young Band, the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team and a fireworks finale.

World Series MVP pitcher Tom Glavine will be available for autographs Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the AT&T tent in Lot C.

Fan Fest opens at 11 a.m. each day in Lot C outside TD Ameritrade Park.

The first game of the series is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday between Texas Tech and Michigan, followed by a 6 p.m. game between Arkansas and Florida State.

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Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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