The College World Series is the Douglas County Fair.
At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for years.
Let’s face it, if you are not a dyed-in-the-wool fan of a team playing, the actual baseball these days at the city’s featured annual event can be, dare I say, a bit monotonous.
Yet, there is always a buzz around the stadium, with hordes of people milling about, buying T-shirts and such, eating, even riding a Ferris wheel. A bunch of people out having fun — maybe not watching baseball, but having fun nonetheless.
Hence, my theory: The CWS is the county fair.
Then I began noticing stories in this newspaper about the struggles of the Douglas County Fair. The first one that caught my eye was a few years back about the fair being held in the Crossroads Mall parking lot. What?
Yep, and after that, the fair was moved to the Village Pointe Shopping Center and Chance Ridge Event Center.
I’m not a county fair expert, but those stories served to support my thesis. The county fair is in a parking lot.
Damn you, CWS, I thought. You are sucking all the air from the county fair and robbing Omahans of the chance to have their pies judged!
I grew up in a rural community, and it seemed a lot of people liked the county fair. They’d make things — like pies — and enter them in contests. They’d raise a pig or sheep and enter those, as well.
As I remember, there would usually be a carnival, which I thought was fun. And if you went, you could stand around and watch people from around the county who were standing around watching you. It was a popular event.
So, when assigned this short essay about why we love the CWS, I thought I would turn the assignment upside down and write something about why not everyone is thrilled with the CWS. Kind of balance things out a bit.
So I called Matt Gunderson, the Douglas County Fair Advisory Board chairman.
Surely he would have something bad to say about the CWS.
To the contrary. First, he was kind enough to listen to my thesis. Then he de-fanged me.
Turns out Gunderson loves the CWS. It is the biggest link in a long chain of successful summer events in Omaha, he said.
Great celebrations are a sure sign of a thriving community, he said, and one as big as the CWS helps the others. Besides, ya lunkhead, the CWS is in June and the fair is in July.
OK, he didn’t say lunkhead, but he said enough for me to feel like one.
“June for me is synonymous with the CWS” and the NCAA regionals and super regionals, he said, which is when I realized he knew more about college baseball than I did about county fairs.
“To me (college baseball) is a June thing. Then we move into the next major festival or celebration.”
He went on: The CWS celebrates baseball on a large scale with national media attention. On a smaller scale “the fair is a celebration of accomplishment for folks in the county, and it can occur as a summer run of events,” he said. “I don’t view it as any competition.”
If anything, Gunderson said, he views the CWS as “a good time to market yourself.”
So, as you can see, this little essay that started as a way to poke a hole in the College World Series’ grand reputation has now become just another reason why we love it.
And with some luck we — meaning you — might start loving the Douglas County Fair again.
“The fair has had many chapters in its 100-plus-year history,” Gunderson said. “It has evolved over time, and like anything it can hit rough patches along the way. Things only can get better after a rough patch. It just hit a period of trying to figure out its identity.”
He pointed out the fair’s theme and mission: “Where urban and rural meet.”
Which is pretty cool. Right up there with “The Greatest Show on Dirt.”
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Henry Walker of the Aggies beats a throw to first base, which is manned by Charles Eyer in a photo published June 12, 1954.
Blair's Helen Rasmussen displays the CWS trophy in a photo published May 20, 1951.
This photo of Oklahoma State — then Oklahoma A&M — was taken during the 1954 College World Series.
Colorado State's big batters await their game in June 1955. Left to right: Lucas, Petersen, Lee and Hoien.
Cougar coach Buck Bailey and Captain Jerry Martin are greeted by CWS Queen Jody White in a photo published June 8, 1956.
Myers, Reed, Taylor and Sudderth — Texans that banked on pitching experience. This photo was published May 30, 1957.
Notre Dame's Duffy, Hurley, Cusack, Kohorst, Giarrantana, Senecal, Carideo, Johnson, Buinowski prepare for a game against Iowa State in a photo published June 8, 1957.
Coach Frank Sancet congratulates Arizona pitcher Donnie Lee, who brought a 13-0 mark into the 1956 CWS.
Janice Daly, a woman from Western Michigan, met Bob Mason, left, and Dick Sosnowski, in a photo published June 13, 1958.
Arizona State Coach Winkles took a victory ride.
Ringel of Holy Cross gets big welcome after two-run homer in a photo published June 16, 1958.
Arizona's Bob Wilson went high at first base and failed to land in time to catch Bob Andrew, Oklahoma State, in a photo published June 16, 1959.
Arizona pitchers Burdette Morago, left, Bob Encinas, Dave Baldwin, Norm Popkin and Jim Ward on June 12, 1959.
Happy Texas players gather around to greet Kal Segrist after his three-run homer in 1950.
Wixson, left, holds court for Oklahoma City writer Volney Meece, Coach Greene and World-Herald writer Robert Williams. The photo was published June 16, 1960.
A trio of players kneel. From left: Ron Causton, Larry Molsather, North Carolina's Larry Craver, in a photo published June 15, 1960.
Jubilant Arizona mates congratulated Ward (third from right) after he struck out 16 to tie an Omaha record. The photo was published June 11, 1960.
Engstrom, left, and Scott, have differing reactions in a photo published June 21, 1960.
Southern Cal players were caught smiling in 1960. From left: Dick Matern, Larry Himes, Coach Dedeaux.
In a photo published June 6, 1961, five players pose. Martin and Pellagrini stand in back, with, from left, Robinson, Kilroy and Coyle kneeling.
This photo featuring Dedeaux, left, and Hollowell, was published on June 17, 1963. The duo combined for four homers and nine RBIs in the CWS.
Ken Flanagan twisted to score Santa Clara's first run in 1962. Onlookers include catcher Joe Merullo and umpire Lew Weyer in a photo published June 17, 1962.
In a photo published June 16, 1963, Grant Hagwood, left, and Bob Gauna, both Arizonans, play a game.
Minnesota's Dick McCullough, left, and Archie Clark were caught in the rain in 1964.
Ringside seat for rain watching in 1964. From left: Minnesota's Duane Markus, Frank Broseau and Reni Valenciano.
Missouri's Woods, left, and Price peruse some magazines in 1964.
Mississippi's Mattina, left, and Higginbotham warm up with shuffleboard in 1964.
Suzy stands with Ole Miss's Larry Higginbotham, left, and Hancock in 1964.
Teammate and trainer Jack Ward helped Rees to dugout after being hit by a pitch in a photo published June 12, 1964.
Don Moucka, president of the Omaha Suburban Baseball Association, left , and Lloyd Martin, Little League player agent, back, distribute ticket coupons to brothers John and Jim North in 1965.
Schaefer, left, and Penders produced 40 percent of UConn's RBIs in 1965.
Julie Ann Proskocil, a Creighton student, left, and Nan Kristine Isaacson, a UNO student, were voted, respectively, the princess and queen of the 1965 College World Series.
1967 baseball smiles. From left: Janice Simmons, Janice Blauer, Q.V. Lowe and Mr. and Mrs. Scotty Long.
In this photo published June 17, 1967, Houston's dugout is featured.
Queen Michele Marqua "hides" behind 152 discarded baseballs in a photo published June 18, 1967.
CWS Queen Michele Marqua drew the names of the winners in 1967 World-Herald Bat Boy Contest.
The Buckeyes' Rein checked the rain situation before Ohio State's game in June 1966.
Cowboy Ron McCord scored in the eighth inning on pitcher Wally Gross' wild throw to catcher John Zarzocki in 1966.
David Hall of Texas proved a long reach can be helpful in 1968's 7-0 elimination of BYU. He apparently misjudged his dive back to first, but used his hand to regain the base ahead of a throw to Doug Howard.
Southern Cal's Bill Seinsoth dove in from the rear to tag Al Matson just before Redman reached first base. Pitcher Jim Barr tossed ball and applied brakes to avoid a collision after fielding a drag bunt. This photo was published June 14, 1968.
1968 bat girls From left: Michele Martin, Diana Tuel, Linda Svoboda, Christy Gee.
New York University has made two College World Series appearances. In this photo, from NYU's 1969 CWS, Jones, Marino and Coach Geracioti are pictured.
In this photo published June 6, 1969, Longhorns freshman Burt Hooton, a "strikeout wizard," is pictured.
Iowa State's Bob Case, left and Ray Wood, in a photo published June 14, 1970.
Iowa State's Larry Corrigan takes a futile belly slide. Dartmouth's Tim Hannigan kicks the plate on a force play and moves aside as the Cyclone creates a dust storm in the 1970 CWS.
Umpire Gus Steiner makes emphatic "out" signal as Ohio catcher Malcolm Smoot retains the ball while meeting the sliding contact from Longhorn Jack Miller in the 1970 CWS.
Southern Cal Coach Rod Dedeaux leads A cheer after a win in 1970.
A moment of glory for Delaware. Texas batsman David Hall looks on as ump Doug Cossey calls Lou Bagwell out on attempted steal of home as Dave Willard took an accurate throw from second base following a successful first half of a double steal in 1970.
Here's a shot of the 1970 College World Series crowd.
Texas baseball followers have had more ups than downs during the College World Series.
Umpire Bill Stewart listened patiently as Tulsa coach Gene Shell argued in vain on "out" call in 1971.
Out at the plate! Souther California's Frank Alfano tried to stretch a triple into a home run, but was tagged out by Tulsa catcher Mike Pemberton. The umpire pictured is Don Gust in a photo published June 16, 1971.
Umpire Doug Cossey grimaces in the 1972 College World Series heat.
Reggie Tredway jumped, steadied himself on the grandstand railing and made the catch. Harvard rivals look on in grudging admiration in 1971.
Keith Rosnovsky is pictured cheering for the Longhorns in 1972.
Clint Myers scored for Arizona State, who doubled in the second inning and was brought home by Jerry Mentlo's double. Teammate John Sain signaled no need to slide as Trojan catcher Sam Ceci stood by in 1972.
Texas catcher Bill Berryhill, left, threw throw to pitcher Jimmy Brown, who was covering at home. Runner Steve Dillard, of Mississippi, raced home safely after advancing on Brown's wild pitch in 1972.
Southern Cal Coach Rod Dedeaux protests call in 1972.
It must be the seventh inning. This unidentified fan had his picture published on June 11, 1973.
One treat wasn't enough for Denise Williamson in 1973.
Doug Keiser made plenty of noise in the 1973 CWS.
A western hat made Texas Norman Miner easy to spot in a contingent of Longhorn rooters in 1973.
A Georgia Southern quartet relaxed outside Blackstone Hotel in 1973. From left: John Tamargo, Rolando DeArmas, Steve Daniel and Keathel Chaucey.