One time ballpark landmark sits empty

OMAHA, Neb. — It is the quietest June old Rosenblatt Stadium has ever seen.

Fans used to pack the ballpark, cars used to pack the neighborhood and vendors used to pack the street. Flags flew high in front of the grand entrance, right behind the famous statue of a bronzed depiction of celebration — a player with his index finger pointed high in the air, carried by players and coaches, maybe even a fan. On the foundation beneath the statue read: The Road to Omaha.

Since 1950, Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium was home to the College World Series. But, like all good things, Rosenblatt got too old. Too dirty. Too out-dated.

In an effort to keep the CWS in its familiar Omaha home, the city agreed to build a new stadium; a ritzy downtown ballpark, fully furnished with state-of-the-art technology. The new project, to be named TD Ameritrade Park Omaha — not the same ring in the name — ended up costing too much at $131 million.

To pay off the debt of the new park, Rosenblatt was sold to the nearby Henry Doorly Zoo, which plans to demolish the stadium and turn it into a parking lot. The Zoo does have plans however of memorializing Rosenblatt by constructing Infield at the Zoo, a 90-foot-by-90-foot replica featuring the stadium’s famous blue roof and an infield cut down to Little League size.

“It will be a sad day when Rosenblatt meets its demise,” said Omaha City Council President Garry Gernandt. “But the zoo plan is a jaw dropper.”

While CWS fans are enjoying the new stadium, which offers better accessibility and more fan-friendly accommodations, some in attendance lament the loss of Rosenblatt.

“TD Ameritrade is a nicer stadium but it has no culture, contrary to Rosenblatt,” said Eddie Flood, a resident of Omaha. “But it has potential.”

Flood, a teenager who has attended more than a few College World Series games at Rosenblatt, thought TD Ameritrade seemed “more corporate.”

“Rosenblatt was more old-school,” he said.

The ability to park in neighboring yards and pull up RV trailers right up to Rosenblatt, which is located in a suburban area about 10 minutes away from TD Ameritrade, made the stadium popular.

“It had a more hometown experience,” said one on-duty police officer who chose to remain anonymous. “It was much less formal.”

Those trying to get one last glimpse at the historic “Diamond on the Hill,” might be disappointed. The entire perimeter of the stadium is surrounded by a wire fence, restricting access. On the entrance columns, you can see where old plaques have been torn off — nothing but old drill holes and caulk. The flagpoles are empty, the parking lot is deserted — one day soon, the whole place will be nothing but a parking lot — and there is hardly a soul to be seen, unless you count a few zoo visitors. The statue is gone. All that remains is a stump of the foundation covered by plywood. It was transplanted downtown to TD Ameritrade, where it greets visitors in front of the new main entrance.

It still reads: The Road to Omaha.

It’s just not the same destination.