June 19, 2010 - June 29, 2010 • Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha • Attendance: 330,922
Nobody writes an ending like Rosenblatt Stadium.
For days now, even weeks, people have tried to come up with the perfect crescendo for the College World Series at the diamond on the hill. They talked about walk-off homers, plays at the plate, last at-bat heroics. LSU vs. Texas. Zesto vs. Stadium View. You name it.
We should have known all along that this grand old yard, a stadium with a soul and an imagination, would give us the perfect ending.
How could it get any better than what we were treated to on Tuesday night, an unforgettable Tuesday night at the CWS?
Extra innings. Eleven innings.
People standing in all corners of the stadium.
People sitting outside the stadium, refusing to leave, watching on a big screen.
The “ping’’ of the bat.
The roar of the crowd.
The winning run scores.
South Carolina 2, UCLA 1.
The Gamecocks won their first baseball national championship. But both teams, the fans, the CWS and Rosenblatt Stadium were all winners.
Greatest game ever? Who knows what that is? This one will be in the conversation as long as the CWS lives downtown and in this town.
Warren Morris spoiled us. The former LSU second baseman’s walk-off homer to win the 1996 CWS is the moment that too often defines this event. It’s the one this generation remembers, the one it witnessed and felt firsthand.
And as soon as South Carolina tied this game in the eighth, you could feel it in this sellout crowd: Everyone was waiting for the ghost of Warren to show up in Carolina garnet.
Exactly why, in the top of the ninth, I left the press box to go sit on the steps behind home plate: where I watched Morris swing the bat and change everything way back when, 14 years ago.
But there’s only one Warren Morris.
And there are many ways to write a perfect ending.
What’s a perfect ending for a classic event in a classic stadium?
It’s 11 innings of tight, taut, intense, every-pitch-counts baseball. UCLA, rebounding from an off night in game one, gave us that with South Carolina. It was everything a CWS championship game should be and more.
It’s a sellout crowd of nearly 25,000 sitting and wondering for three hours if they would see history.
It’s the buzz of the crowd when South Carolina tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the eighth.
It’s the silence before every late-inning pitch, a silence caused by an entire crowd holding its breath.
It’s the sight of flashbulbs with every single pitch.
It’s all but a handful of fans refusing to leave the game, and those who did congregated outside the plaza, watching the action on a big screen.
It’s people standing in back rows, along the bridge that connects to the bleachers and along the aisles down the left- and right-field lines. When people are standing and groaning for every pitch, there’s no better atmosphere and no better way for a stadium to take its final bows.
It’s two pitchers, Matt Price of South Carolina and Dan Klein of UCLA, digging down deep and refusing to blink. Those two may have had to pitch all night, and they looked up to the task.
It’s the double bonus of all this drama being for the national championship and the lasting memory of Rosenblatt.
It’s the late-game cheers for South Carolina, and you didn’t know whether the locals had adopted a new team or were cheering to witness the end or both.
It’s Scott Wingo — a second baseman, like Morris — walking and advancing to second on a wild pitch to open the 11th. It’s Wingo advancing to third on a sacrifice bunt.
It’s the anticipation of the crowd that now is the time, right here at 10:55 p.m., with one out and a man on third and Whit Merrifield up.
It’s the roar of the crowd when Merrifield dug low and lined a sinker to right field.
It’s more flashes, the dogpile, and the realization that this was it. It’s over.
It’s those chants of “U-S-C, U-S-C.’’ And what a cool thing, in a throwback sort of way, that South Carolina goes by the same initials and similar colors, to the Southern California program that put this event and stadium on the map long ago.
It’s the streaker, sort of, who made an ill-timed appearance. Underwear? Understand, we’re not complaining. On this night, modesty seemed not only appropriate, but necessary.
It’s all of those history-witnessing folks filing out slowly with smiles on their faces.
That’s how you close a great event at a great ballpark.
What made this the perfect ending for the CWS at Rosenblatt was how the entire evening was like a trip down memory lane. All of the elements that made us love this event, nurture it and ultimately protect it for 25 more years were on display, in four hours and 15 minutes of pure CWS baseball joy.
There were fireworks. They turned off the lights to show a terrific video of all the great moments and familiar faces. A trumpet player stood at home plate in the dark and belted out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game’’ in a slow rhythm that sounded somewhat like “Taps.’’
And South Carolina coach Ray Tanner complimented Omaha, saying “You really know how to do it.’’ Somewhere, Jack Diesing Sr. and Johnny Rosenblatt himself were nodding in approval.
Down here on heaven on earth, Steve Rosenblatt stood behind home plate with a big smile on his face. Perfect ending, indeed.
“I just kept saying, ‘It’s going to happen tonight, it’s going to happen,’” Rosenblatt said. “It’s going to be over. I just wanted to see a great baseball game, and I think that’s what most people wanted. I think the fans enjoyed it. It was thrilling.’’
There was relief on this night, and that comes with knowing we can finally put the emotions of the final CWS here to rest and turn to the north.
The diamond on the hill will be open for business again this weekend. But for many, this amazing, perfect ending is how they will remember it.
We’ll never forget this game or this night. And we will never forget the College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium.
— World-Herald columnist Tom Shatel
Bryan Holaday, C, TCU
Christian Walker, 1B, South Carolina
Cody Regis, 2B, UCLA
John Hinson, 3B, Clemson
Taylor Featherson, SS, TCU
Beau Amaral, OF, UCLA
Evan Marzilli, OF, South Carolina
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, South Carolina
Brady Thomas, DH, South Carolina
Trevor Bauer, P, UCLA
Matt Purke, P, TCU