Some of my favorite regular season games of the year are the ones that are played in non-routine settings. In the past we’ve seen international games, games played at Fort Bragg, Williamsport, etc. All of them have a purpose: to make a regular season game that would tend be lost in a schedule of thousands of games a memorable one. So when Major League Baseball announced that they were bringing one to Omaha (this idea had been floated around for awhile) and knowing that it was near me, I knew I had to make an effort to attend it.
Months had passed and I had put the thought of going to the game in the back of my head. But as the contest became only days away, I finally bought some tickets, rented a hotel for a night, and decided I was going to make the boring 3 1⁄2 hour car drive from Kansas City to Omaha hours before the game.
I showed up about an hour and a half before first pitch, surprised at how easy it was to park and walk to TD Ameritrade Ballpark (you could tell downtown Omaha was used to crowds with the College World Series). Getting closer to the ballpark, there was a clear College World Series theme, which wasn’t a surprise. This could be seen from the many games and apparel stands sitting outside the stadium. In terms of fandom, the crowd was diversified. The majority were Royals fans, all in part to Kansas City only being a few hours away from Omaha, the Omaha Storm Chasers being the Royals affiliate, and of course with the Royals participating in the game. If there’s a team that Omaha claims fandom to, it’s clearly the Royals. Among them were a decent amount of Tigers fans, with the occasional Cubs jersey being sprinkled in, also thanks in part to the short drive. And then there were plenty of fans of the eight teams in the College World Series among the crowd.
I ended up spending the majority of the game in the outfield walking area. The area was slightly crowded, due to a full sellout of seats and then some (the announced attendance was 25,454, the ballpark only sits 24,000). You could tell this event was a success and that the city of Omaha was excited for this just by that. As for the ballpark, it was very nice. It’s built with a clean, organized looking structure and features a portion of the small Omaha skyline beyond the outfield as a view.
As for the game, the highlight of the night was watching the recently called up Royals second baseman, Nicky Lopez, hit his first big league home run (and the first ever MLB home run in the state of Nebraska) in the same stadium he played his college games for Creighton University at was special. Many in attendance were attached to Lopez more than any other player on the field that night and for them to watch him hit a home run, let alone even play in a big league game was awesome. I could sense the joyous feeling around me.
There was a unique quality from this event that I noticed immediately. I didn’t notice that I was watching a rather unappealing matchup between two of the worst teams in baseball. Festivities like the Golden Spikes award ceremony, the introduction of the eight College World Series teams, the constant College World Series montages being played on the video-board, and greats like Barry Larkin and Dave Winfield being announced onto the field around covered that thought up. For one night, it felt like my team of fandom, the Royals, weren’t playing in some meaningless game. And because of all of that, I look forward to this becoming an annual tradition.