At the center of it all was Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, which opened in 1948 and was named for a 1950s mayor who dearly loved the game. Although Rosenblatt’s cramped seats lacked any sort of luxury — even cup holders — thousands of fans journeyed there each June, even when their favorite teams didn’t get to make the trip.
The College World Series returns to Omaha once again this weekend — but not to Rosenblatt. Its new home is TD Ameritrade Park, a sleek glass-and-brick stadium downtown named for an online brokerage firm that paid $20 million for the right to slap its brand on the park.
“It’s big, and it’s shiny, and it’s new. It’s all of the things you lacked at Rosenblatt,” said Kyle Peterson, a nearly lifelong Omahan who pitched for Stanford in the mid-1990s, played in two College World Series and is now an ESPN commentator. “But I think for anyone who grew up in Omaha, there’s a bit of nostalgia.”
‘Building for the future’
To keep the series coming back year after year, Omaha leaders signed short-term contracts with the NCAA and spent millions adding seats to Rosenblatt. More than a decade ago, the series started making money for the NCAA, and in 2007 it reportedly netted $3.6 million before television revenue.
But the NCAA knew it could make even more money with a new stadium — especially one with more seats, club seating, expanded luxury boxes and tighter control over vendors near the stadium.
Cities such as Indianapolis waited in the wings, just in case Omaha didn’t agree with the need for the new stadium. Losing the series would mean losing tens of millions of dollars fans and teams spend, jobs centered around the series and weeks of national publicity.
“We felt a new stadium was the answer,” said Jack Diesing Jr., the volunteer president of College World Series of Omaha Inc., the local organizing group. “The whole idea was we were building for the future.”
The new TD Ameritrade Park, which holds 24,000 spectators and cost $131 million in public and private funds to build, has all of the fan-centric perks of a major league stadium. Legroom is plentiful, as are the bathrooms. The seats are more spacious and have cup holders, and the general-admission benches have backs. The corporate skyboxes are luxurious, the press box is sprawling. There’s even a gluten-free concession stand.
The facility has subtle elegance: sweeping staircases, an airy concourse and gentle architecture lacking any eye-catching features.
“I call it McStadium, because it’s probably the most politically correct stadium that you could build,” said Steven Pivovar, an Omaha World-Herald sports writer who grew up near Rosenblatt and has covered the series for 30 years. “There’s nothing that grabs you and says, ‘This is Omaha’s stadium.’ ”