Thursday, June 30, 2011

New and Improved in Omaha

On Tuesday we visited the destination around which the whole trip was structured, and as it turned out, got a bonus game as consolation for being inconvenienced when the start time was changed.  As Melvin noted back in February, we went to Omaha in 2004 to see the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals.  This year we drove across Illinois and Iowa to see Werner Park, the new home for the team now called the Omaha Storm Chasers.

The game, against the Memphis Redbirds, was originally planned as the second half of a day-night double-header, with the early game between the Iowa Cubs and Albuquerque Isotopes.  However, the Storm Chasers changed their game to noon and we had to shuffle the second, third and fourth days of the trip.  In the process, we were also able to see the last game of the men’s NCAA College World Series, a two-game sweep by the Gamecocks of South Carolina over the Florida Gators.  The CWS was also played this year in a new stadium, TD Ameritrade Park.

The Omaha-Memphis game was about the long ball and the best was saved for last.  The Cardinals affiliate got solo shots from Andrew Brown and Matt Carpenter in the fourth and eighth, respectively.  In between, Mike Aviles hit a one-run homer for the Storm Chasers in the fifth inning.  A double and a single by the home team tied it up 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth.

The fireworks game in the last at-bat.  The Chasers led off with back-to-back singles.  A sac bunt and an intentional walk loaded the bases for Kila Ka’aihue.  The Hawaiian has hit as many as 37 home runs in season but none so far this year.  None until his grand slam, walk-off blast to win the game, 6-2.
Box Score

Werner Park is a really beautiful park … and a monument to urban sprawl.  Site plans show the stadium as just one component of a mixed-use development including hundreds of units of new homes, thousands of square feet of new retail and a new public park.  But for now the stadium sits by itself in the rolling hills west of Omaha, in Papillion.

It may be bad planning, but it is good architecture.  Metal, stone and wood are combined artfully, with a greater than usual attention to detail.  The one short-coming Melvin and I noted was the rear of the ballpark (below), which functions as the service entrance and is designed to look like one too.  However, the free parking is located out back and we were not the only ones to elect save a couple bucks.  If the rear of the stadium is what many fans are going to see first, it needs to be more inviting.

The Storm Chasers had played as the Omaha Royals in Rosenblatt Stadium, which they shared with the College World Series.  Unlike Goldilocks, the Royals found Rosenblatt too large and the NCAA too small.  The latter threatened to take the tournament elsewhere if it didn’t get a new stadium and TD Ameritrade Park is what they got when Omaha capitulated.  During the game Melvin and I attended, the NCAA honored the man who got the deal done and “increased [television] ratings and attendance,” what it’s all about.

There were knowledgeable fans and passionate ones as well for the decisive game but it still seemed fairly.  The Gamecocks were looking to repeat as champions and their previous two wins, including in the first game against the Gators, came in the 11th inning.  Yet most of the people in attendance seemed more interested in attending an event, rather than a contest in which they were emotionally invested.  People were more enthusiastic, for example, about knocking a beach ball around the stands.  Perhaps many of the folks there had been rooting for one of the six other teams to advance to the finals.  The stadium also seemed antiseptic, not without design flourishes but more function then forms.  It was also stripped of all advertising, not a bad thing but another factor in the subdued tone of the affair.

After the game, we checked out a grotto on the campus of Grace University; a little spooky in the dark.  When we found ourselves near Rosenblatt, we stopped there next but couldn’t see much of the partially demolished ballpark.  The local police were very professional and understanding of our curiosity.  The Indian brewpub—yes, you read that correctly and no, I do not mean Native American—closed at 9:30 pm.

To start the day, Melvin and I once again eschewed a free breakfast at the motel for finer fare at La Mie.  We then investigated a cemetery in a traffic rotary before hitting the road.  We’re all going “ONE WAY,” aren’t we?

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