Thursday, June 30, 2016

College World Series - June 24-25, 2016

TD Ameritrade Park was opened in 2011 to be the exclusive home of the College World Series, as well as Creighton Bluejays baseball. Lately the Big Ten tournament is held here and a couple of football clubs have used the venue as well. The stadium is the largest non-MLB park in the country, holding 24,505 fans, though more can be allowed in to take up all the standing room spots around the entire concourse.

There are dedicated CWS parking lots that charge $10 for the whole day, but a better option are the ten-hour parking meters, which are 25 cents an hour and are not that far from the stadium, though you might have to drive around a bit to find them (I believe there are some at 13th and Douglas). You can even pay for street parking through an app, thus eliminating the need to carry a bunch of quarters around.

The ballpark is on the northeast edge of downtown (as you can see above from the 300 level in left field, looking southwest), so there isn't much in terms of permanent eateries in the immediate vicinity. There is a Fan Fest that is worth a look, as well as a temporary party area if you want to load up on booze and a baseball equipment show if you want to load up on bats and gloves. If you are too lazy to head downtown, Goodnights Pizza is right across 13th Street from the stadium, but they don't serve drafts during the CWS because apparently fans can't be trusted with glass objects. Their pizza is pretty good, but a better choice is the Omaha Tap House at 14th and Farnam, only a few blocks away, with a much more appealing food selection and draft beer served in a glass.

Before entering the stadium, take a few minutes to walk around the area; if you are fan of a team that has already been sent home, you can get some deals on the elimination rack.

If you haven't been following the results, you can check the bat bracket which is updated after every game...

...or just look at the flags to see which teams are still alive. Eight schools make the trip and it is a double elimination tournament, so it does take some time to complete, lasting nearly two weeks.

Tickets are generally priced the same for each game in the CWS, somewhere between $32-39 each, with the upper deck seats slightly cheaper. There are also general admission vouchers that can be used for any game, though you will be in the outfield bleachers. These are $85 for 10 tickets, a bargain if you are staying for several games, as you can move around the stadium and sit in the better seats for the less attractive matchups.

For midweek games, it seems like the secondary ticket market is the much better option; I found seats behind home plate (view below) for $25 on Prime Sports, the official reseller, while StubHub also had plenty below face value and I used them for the second game. The advantage of StubHub is that you get an actual stub, though you do have to pick up the tickets from their temporary location a few blocks from the stadium (but conveniently close to the Omaha Tap House).

There are three seating levels that you can see below. The 100 level stretches from foul pole to foul pole, while the 200 level is mostly suites and the club area. There are three 300 level sections on each side of the suites and these are actually pretty good places to sit, particularly in the evening when the lack of shade is not a problem.

In fact, much of the park is unshaded, so if you are attending an afternoon game, try to sit in row 23 or above behind the plate or along third base. There are many standing areas along the main concourse which provide shelter should you forget your sunscreen.

The park is dedicated to college baseball, so it lacks many of the amenities that you would find in minor league stadiums. There are no fun zones, on-field antics, or giveaways, though mascots do roam the concourse. History is remembered with a series of posters high above the main concourse that highlight past CWS winners along with players who went on to fame and fortune in the majors, such as Dave Winfield (below).

There is also a small memorial to Rosenblatt Stadium, which hosted the CWS from 1950-2010.

Alcohol is now served here; you just have to get a wristband in advance and beers are reasonably priced at $6, though only Bud Light and that sort of swill is available. Food options are more varied, with Famous Dave's Rib Tips generating the most interest.

Overall, TD Ameritrade Park is a very impressive venue that must be visited by any college baseball fan. It is true that it can be an expensive venture with hotels in the area still overcharging during the first week at least, but if you stay a few miles away from downtown, you can find good deals and neither traffic nor parking seems to be a problem in Omaha. Fan interest has started to wane in this annual event, a result of holding it in the same place every year and some schools repeatedly making the final eight. As a neutral observer, this is a benefit with tickets easily available at reduced prices, particularly in the latter stages of the tournament when some teams have already been eliminated. Keep all that in mind should you decide to pay a visit to the College World Series in 2017 or beyond.

The Games

I saw two games here. The first was on Friday as Arizona took on Oklahoma State at 2 p.m. The Wildcats needed to win to stay alive and sent ace Nathan Bannister (drafted in the 28th round by Seattle) to the hill, while the Cowboys, who had won both their games 1-0 and had two chances to advance to the final, let freshman Jensen Elliott make the start. It was obvious right away that Elliott was not ready for the challenge as Arizona scored one in the first on a walk and two singles, and added two more in the second on two doubles and a single. What was really frustrating was that Arizona played slow-down ball, where they would step out after every pitch or pickoff, watching the coach for signs. The first four innings took 2 hours, helped by an injury to Bannister and I was more than annoyed at these tactics as I had to leave by 5:30 to get to the Storm Chasers. Surprisingly the next three frames took just 45 minutes as I guess somebody told Arizona to speed things up, but it didn't matter to the Cowboys, who simply didn't have the offense to come back. They did answer a Wildcat run in the 4th with two of their own in the bottom half. But Cameron Ming came on in relief and threw five strong innings for the save as Arizona added 2 in the eighth and 3 in the ninth to rout the Cowboys 9-3. I missed the last inning and a bit as the game took 3:50, a travesty for such a blowout. I can't believe the NCAA allows their showcase event to be managed like this.

The two teams played again on Saturday in the afternoon, but I skipped that game (Arizona won to advance) and instead went to the evening game between TCU and Coastal Carolina, with the winner going on to face the Wildcats in the best-of-3 final. The Chanticleers were certainly the Cinderella story of the tournament; coming out of the Big South and making their first appearance in Omaha. But they were not to be underestimated as they were ranked 12th in RPI, the best among the remaining four schools (TCU was 16th, Arizona 21st, Oklahoma State 32nd).

Sure enough, CCU scored 1 in the second and 2 in third before adding 4 runs break the game open in the fourth. Down 7-1, TCU chipped away and were within 7-5 in the ninth with the tying run at the plate in the form of Michael Landestoy, son of former major leaguer Rafael. Landestoy grounded one up the middle but the CCU defense turned a fantastic double play and suddenly the Chanticleers were on their way to the final. A very entertaining game played at a good pace to end my time in Omaha.


Unfortunately I couldn't stick around as I had to get to Denver to see the Jays take on the Rockies, but Arizona won the first game of the final, then lost the second. The third game was rained out on Wednesday night, forcing it to be played Thursday afternoon, when I was flying back to New York. The Chanticleers won that 4-3 to become the 2016 College World Series champions, the first championship in any sport for the school. A great story that received relatively little play in the news; if a Big South school won a basketball championship in football or basketball it would be considered the upset of the century.

The Olympic Swim Trials were held at the CenturyLink Center from June 26th until July 3rd. The CLC is right beside TD Ameritrade Park (it's visible in the background of the photo of the empty outfield seats). I found it curious that these two high profile events would be held at the same time, but guess that there are few fans that would be interested in both. I personally would like to have attended one of the swimming sessions but left Omaha early Sunday morning to get to Denver to see the Rockies and Diamondbacks in a snoozer. Poor planning on my part and a reminder that you should always check venue event schedules in whatever city you plan to visit; you never know what might be happening.



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