Written on June 27, 2011 – 8:04 am | by Cameron Hussey
The primary players behind the groups that stage the College World Series said virtually everything went right, leaving only a few tweaks and maybe a couple of trims to consider for the event’s second year at its new home in downtown Omaha.
It has gone amazingly well, said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA’s vice president of baseball and football.
Everything went right, actually, said Jack Diesing Jr., president of CWS of Omaha, Inc.
From everything I’m hearing, it went well, said Roger Dixon, president of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.
In separate interviews as the CWS wrapped up, the three said not all reviews are in. The NCAA will ask participating coaches for detailed critiques, as they do each year. Those should come in the next 30 days or so. Officials talked things over Wednesday, and other wrap-up meetings will take place later in July.
In general, they said initial responses indicated that TD Ameritrade Park performed very well for players and fans.
My biggest concern was that we overlooked something that impacted the playing surface or the play of the game, or the experience of the fans, Poppe said. We were very pleased with the play of the game. I’ve heard nothing but positives from the coaches, to the degree that they have been almost effusive.
He noted an exception, what he called the one-in-10,000 home run, that might lead to a tweak in the stadium. On the series’ first night, June 18, Florida’s Brian Johnson knocked what should have been ruled a home run, but was ruled a double. The ball cleared the fence in right-center field, then bounced back onto the field after hitting a second fence installed to prevent fan interference. Florida went on to win. Officials are considering what to do, Poppe and Dixon said.
Discussions have also begun about changing the batter’s eye. That’s an area beyond the center field fence that provides a visual background for players at home plate. It’s supposed to form a dark, uncluttered background behind the pitcher so batters can pick up the white ball coming toward them.
Currently, a row of evergreen trees stands in front of a dark fence in the batter’s eye at TD Ameritrade Park. NCAA baseball officials are considering whether that part of TD Ameritrade Park needs changing, Dixon said.
If we heard anything negative about the stadium at all, it was about the Christmas trees’ out in center field, he said.
There were some complaints from fans early in the series that speakers were too loud under the overhang. Stadium officials made adjustments.
Another fan complaint would be more difficult to resolve. Fans in some seats under the overhang on the first base side and in right field can’t see the big scoreboard and video screen. There’s a smaller scoreboard on the third-base side.
That’s not an easy fix, Dixon said, calling it a down-the-road item.
It would cost a lot to add a scoreboard in left field. It would require structural changes. And those changes would be in the way of possible future stadium expansion, Dixon said.
Outside the stadium, changes will be considered to the display of The Road to Omaha sculpture, Diesing said. Critics have said shrubs with dark leaves behind it make the bronze artwork hard to see, and that it seems squeezed against a concrete wall.
The vast majority of the approximately 2,700 season ticket-holders were happy with their seat assignments, Diesing said. A relative few he thought maybe 30 were unhappy enough that they asked for reconsideration.
We’re going to see what we can do, he said.
Four or five fans in reserved seats had obstructed views of home plate. Diesing said those will be part of post-CWS discussions, but his personal view is that the seats should continued to be sold, with fans being made aware that their view is obstructed.
He said some consideration also may be given to how to organize general admission ticket lines. Although officials said people eventually got into the stadium, there was at times a long line at one general admission gate, while the other was empty.
Those are little things, Diesing said. Ninety-nine percent of everything that happened this week went well. We had 10 percent more people attend every game. They stayed for the whole game, and they were comfortable in their surroundings. … I had people stop me walking up the aisle or through the concourse, people from Omaha or visitors from elsewhere, and say you guys really hit a home run here.
Diesing said players and coaches couldn’t say enough about the big-time, comfortable, first-class atmosphere. … Omaha should be proud.
Also on Dixon’s list of things that went right: a footlong culinary concoction and concessions in general. He didn’t see or hear of long lines at food and beverage stands. And he said, We’ve probably got a signature piece in the Reuben sausage.
Tailgaters applauded the atmosphere in MECA lots. Dixon was happy to hear that, but he wasn’t thrilled to see a full stadium and parking lots less than full. Some tweaks may be needed there, he said.
Outside the stadium, traffic flowed much better than many expected. Diesing had worried that there would be long backups on Interstate 480, as there were at Rosenblatt, but that did not happen. He attributed that to smart traffic control by Omaha police and good use of a well-designed shuttle system.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle said city officials figured out how to make it work. Fans had lots of choices they could park far away and take Metro shuttles, or park downtown and take circulator buses, or drive all the way down and park near the stadium.
We did everything we could to make sure that, in spite of the water in spite of the F-word, flood that the visitors to the CWS had a pleasurable experience, he said.
Work needs to be done in the future to make sure people CWS fans and not know that the Old Market restaurants and shops are accessible during the series, Suttle said.
The Downtown Improvement District Association will conduct a survey to see how much of an economic bump businesses received from the series, said Joe Gudenrath, executive director. Also, the Old Market Business Association plans a feedback session. Results will be presented to CWS planners and managers, Gudenrath said.
From a complete overview, everything went very well, he said. Hats off to the city, MECA, CWS Inc., Metro transit and the downtown community as a whole.