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Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, June 8, 2000

C O L L E G E _ S P O R T S

The College
World Series has entered
elite category
of events

By Kalani Simpson
Special to the Star-Bulletin


OMAHA, Neb. - They fill the stands here, and that has made all the difference.

They pack them, 16,000-plus for a ho-hum Thursday elimination contest, over 23,000 each championship game.

The streets surrounding Rosenblatt Stadium take on a party atmosphere, all tailgating and parking crunches and food and fun.

Super fans, taking a page from the swallows that return to Capistrano, loyally flock back here each year, traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to immerse themselves in the experience.

They've taken a minor sport and made it major league.


At Omaha, Neb.
Double Elimination - All times HST


Bullet Game 1 -- San Jose State (41-22) vs. Clemson (50-16), 9 a.m.
Bullet Game 2 -- Louisiana-Lafayette (47-18) vs. Stanford (47-15), 1 p.m.


Bullet Game 3 -- Florida State (51-17) vs. Southern California (43-18), 6:30 a.m.
Bullet Game 4 -- LSU (48-17) vs. Texas (46-19), 1 p.m.

The College World Series, every game of it, is on national television now. CBS tells and re-tells the fairy tale from coast to coast, complete with a background of inspirational theme music.

ESPN bigwigs fight each other for the privilege of an assignment in Omaha.

The college baseball championship? Go figure.

College baseball, at most venues across the country, is usually played in front of parents and girlfriends. Why should the College World Series be any more of a big-time event than, say, the college gymnastics tournament or Division I wrestling championships or the soccer final four?

It's because the hustle and bustle couldn't be any greater. Police horses. People. Cars. Kids. One-dollar slices of pizza.

For a few days, nationally renowned Henry Doorly Zoo, Rosenblatt's next door neighbor, has moved a block west.

Everyone is moving back and forth, forth and back, with free offers here and there, and food everywhere. There is noise and activity as businesses and radio stations set up shop, hoping to be a part of the carnival atmosphere, cashing in on the fun.

Everyone wants you to look at something. Everything is for sale. Business booms.

Driveways turn into makeshift storefronts and bars that stand comfortably silent for months suddenly spring to life. People at the front, who live peacefully on 13th street for 11 months of the year, decide to roll with the flow rather than fighting it, pocketing a tidy sum by turning lawns into parking lots.

And everywhere, smiles.

There is the College World Series phenomenon known simply as Dingerville, the makeshift RV shantytown named in honor of a Louisiana super fan that led the annual pilgrimage to Omaha for the baseball Shangri-La.

It is alternately dusty or muddy, any vegetation battered into submission by campers and gawkers alike.

Namesake Glen Allmendinger, from Longville, La., was elected mayor of the makeshift community in the mid-1990s, and has held the title ever since.

He was one of a handful that, after a cross-country trek to Omaha for the CWS, parked their campers in a vacant lot. And then did so again the next year. And again.

And then more people joined them, returning each year to rekindle friendships with Cajun food and baseball. They came from everywhere, came to this little corner of Omaha to set up camp for 10 days or more in a dusty, muddy, ugly vacant lot.

And they loved it!

A tradition was born.

You couldn't create Dingerville if you tried, not in committees or planning meetings or brainstorming sessions. The best part is the way it just happened.

It was College World Series magic.

A statue greets them now, as they get off team buses and head into Rosenblatt Stadium. It is, they say, of a handful of players celebrating a CWS-winning home run, and the joy is captured nicely. But the name of the piece is more telling.

"The Road to Omaha" is the bronze, slightly larger than life size moment created by John Lajba, presented to Rosenblatt by CWS Inc. before

last year's series. The scene and the title are the perfect front piece to the mecca of college baseball.

At this event, where they stay so long and are embraced so completely, perhaps more so than in any other championship, players really are happy just to be here. It is the final stop on the road to Omaha, and just making it there is what matters most.

That's what the statue really represents, no matter what we have been told, even if the sculptor himself had a different meaning in mind. The player being held aloft in metallic perpetuity by his teammates hadn't hit a CWS-winning home run. No, this moment is from the Super Regionals, when the players realize they're actually going to Omaha.

Rosenblatt Stadium comes up in conversation in Major League dugouts. Professional players on top of the world reminisce about their days of grace in the Omaha sunshine.

USC Coach Mike Gillespie likes to talk of the dramatic sight of Rosenblatt as the bus gets off the interstate and the team catches its collective breath, taking in the vision for the first time.

They'll remember the moment forever.

And among all the memorabilia and paraphernalia and out-of-town fans wearing their proud colors are thousands upon thousands of Omahans.

That's the secret.

The College World Series has become a big-time event simply because Omaha, with its embrace, has turned it into one.

Players, coaches and fans get an experience most never forget --playing in front of 21,000 enthusiastic fans in a jewel of a ballpark and being the biggest thing going in a metro area of half a million people.

In a sense, the College World Series has become synonymous with Omaha.

It's rare when a city really becomes identified with an event. When you think of Indianapolis, you think of the 500. When you hear Churchill Downs, you think of Louisville and the Kentucky Derby. And Augusta is known for the Masters.

Omaha has entered the elite category of cities.

And the College World Series has entered the elite category of events.

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