LSU once made Omaha its home away from home
LSU isn’t going anywhere. It has been playing football in Tiger Stadium since 1924 and will continue to do so whatever the outcome of a preliminary inquiry into expansion.
The people of Omaha aren’t as fortunate. The Nebraska city has played host to the College World Series since 1950, and the NCAA has used its leverage to hint at moving the event if Omaha doesn’t satisfy its demands.
It wasn’t so long ago that a major renovation of Rosenblatt Stadium took place. That wasn’t good enough. A new downtown stadium – TD Ameritrade Park – was in order, ostensibly built for the Kansas City Royals’ Triple-A farm team but also to keep the CWS in Omaha.
Just as Tiger Stadium is LSU’s domain, LSU once made Rosenblatt Stadium its home away from home. LSU won its first five national baseball titles there between 1991-2000 and created the greatest CWS memory of all – Warren Morris’ two-out, two-run walk-off home run to beat Miami in the 1996 national championship game, 9-8.
For a former sportswriter who covered LSU in five CWS, there are other memories as well.
The initial impression of Rosenblatt Stadium was one of bewilderment, as it required walking on the roof of the stadium to descend down a ladder and into the press box.
During that first visit to Rosenblatt Stadium, the crowd sent a beach ball bouncing through the stands. An obviously miffed public address announcer voiced his displeasure.
After he did so, he asked the crowd, “What do you think this is, fun and games?”
Well, now that you asked, yes.
In any event, Rosenblatt improved with age and familiarity. A more reasonable elevator entrance to an enhanced press box was constructed, and fun-loving LSU fans began chipping away at the Midwesterners’ uptight demeanor.
The CWS always has been a cash cow for Omaha, but that’s particularly true when waves of LSU fans invade the city for a week or more of partying. If truth be known, city officials can’t wait until LSU reaches TD Ameritrade Park.
For its part, neither can LSU which failed to reach this year’s postseason, which guaranteed that hardly any Tiger fans will attend this week’s CWS.
It’s conceivable that two Southeastern Conference teams could play for the national championship just as they did in 1997 when LSU defeated Alabama in the final game.
That was the year LSU hit an NCAA-record 188 home runs, including one that Wes Davis sent into an ESPN camera high above the centerfield fence at Rosenblatt.
In 1998, after the University of Southern California outlasted Arizona State in the title game, 21-14, the NCAA reduced the strength of aluminum bats. A further reduction before this season made them more reflective of wooden bats.
In any event, it wasn’t a home run but a Brad Cresse walk-off single that gave LSU and Coach Skip Bertman the 2000 national crown. LSU won again in 2009 with Paul Mainieri in a tense three-game series against Texas, which is back in the CWS field.
LSU rarely gave indication this past season that it would be a CWS participant any time soon. Losing junior All-American outfielder Mikie Mahtook won’t help, but the Tigers certainly are capable of creating new memories as early as next season in TD Ameritrade Park.
What’s unlikely is that anyone will match the drama of Morris’ home run.
Morris’ only home run of the 1996 season has been identified by some as the single greatest play in LSU athletic history. Those who disagree point to Billy Cannon’s 1959 punt return against Ole Miss as the leading single achievement. Certainly Cannon’s touchdown run was atop the list alone before Morris’ blast.
No one really knows what’s in store other than the fact that more memories will be made in TD Ameritrade Park, just as they will be in Tiger Stadium whether school officials decide to expand Death Valley or not.