June 15, 2002
by Greg Campbell – On the Road in Omaha…
For each of the nearly 300 NCAA Division I baseball programs around the nation, the goal each spring is simple, OMAHA. Omaha? The city best known for its steaks, a zoo which features the world’s largest desert dome (which stands just behind the right field bleachers of Rosenblatt Stadium) and being the home to Union Pacific Railroad and Mututal of Omaha insurance?
Yes, that Omaha, the old railroad junction on the banks of the Missouri River. Except, for ten days each June, the city that goes by the motto of “Omaha… Rare, Well Done.” becomes an entire community wrapped up in the dreams of eight groups of college baseball players, in pursuit of the national championship.
It’s truly amazing to see a city get so wrapped up in a single sporting event. Whether it’s walking into a team hotel to be greeted at the front desk by staff members wearing apparel of the team, or to turn on the local news two days before the competition only to find the top story being the traffic concerns for fans, the residents of eastern Nebraska treat the College World Series as “their” event.
A waitress in a local restaurant commented, “All we’ve got here is Nebraska football in the fall and the CWS in the spring, so it’s a big deal, and it’s a lot of fun.” Having been in the host cities during various major sporting events around the country, and witnessing the city’s atmosphere; to see how Omaha treats “its” event is truly remarkable. College baseball is underappreciated around much of the country, however, it has a home in Omaha.
The College World Series of Omaha organization which hosts the event has worked to ensure that the CWS, which has been here since 1950, doesn’t leave anytime soon. Rosenblatt Stadium today is far cry from the same facility which the Jackets played in eight years ago, en route to the national championship game in 1994. Even within the last 12 months, a second level of bleachers has been added to the outfield, and as the capacity rises, the attendance does as well as 24,711 came out on Friday, the third largest attendance in CWS history.
While 99.9% of the time it’s to a team’s advantage to be the home squad, and bat last, the Yellow Jackets just might have had an advantage on Friday by being the visiting team against South Carolina. Base hits by the game’s first three batters — Eric Patterson, Victor Menocal and Jeremy Slayden — plated two runs in the top of the first for Tech, and set the tone for the game early on, as the Jackets took control early, and behind the left arm of Kyle Bakker, never relinquished it.
In their off time…
One of the traits of the College World Series is that teams have a lot of time away from Rosenblatt Stadium, with games being staggered throughout the week. With just one game in the first 96 hours in Omaha, the Jackets have found different ways to pass the time.
The Tech contingency arrived in Omaha Wednesday afternoon, and after being greeted at Eppley Airfield, the Jackets participated in a workout at nearby Creighton University. The team attended an evening affair at a local sports bar, which was highlighted during the Friday ESPN2 broadcast of Tech’s game against South Carolina. During the evening, Kyle Bakker and Victor Menocal were winners of an autographed bat and ball respectively, by Omaha native, Creighton alum and major league hall of famer, Bob Gibson.
On Thursday, each of the eight teams participated in a 55-minute open practice at Rosenblatt Stadium, followed by a two-hour interview session, which was attended by approximately 2,500 fans. Each team was also present for the CWS Opening Ceremonies, which included a parade of teams, and the Home Run Challenge which was featured nationally on ESPN.
One of the common features of the World Series that each team is assigned a local team “host” who helps to coordinate team functions and interactions with the local community. Georgia Tech’s host during its stay in Omaha is Ken DeWitt, an Air Force retiree, who oversees the recreational center at Offutt Air Force Base, just south of Omaha. Saturday morning, the Yellow Jackets were hosted for a team breakfast at the base, and are scheduled for a second visit on Monday.
Jackets-Tigers, Round V
A late, come from behind victory by Clemson over Nebraska on Friday night setup a fifth matchup tomorrow afternoon between the Jackets and Tigers, this one with the stakes a bit higher. The winner of Sunday’s winner’s bracket tilt moves into the bracket championship game on Wednesday, while the loser will need wins on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday to make it to the national championship game next Saturday.
The importance of winning your first two games in this format was evident on Friday night, as the Huskers and Tigers went through a CWS record 13 pitchers, including Clemson using each of its top three starters (Steve Reba, Matt Henrie and Tyler Lumsden). Clemson coach Jack Leggett will decide later whether to go with Henrie, who picked up the win by pitching a scoreless ninth on Friday, or Lumsden, who threw just four pitches, against Georgia Tech on Sunday.
Tech and Clemson have split the previous four meetings, as the Jackets took two of three at Russ Chandler Stadium in early May, before the Tigers evened the series with a 10-0 win in the opening game of the 2002 ACC Tournament at Florida Power Park in St. Petersburg, Florida on May 22.
World Series Notes
–The combined shutout by Kyle Bakker and Brian Burks on Friday was the first in College World Series play since 1995. The last complete game shutout in CWS action, was also by a Yellow Jacket, as Brad Rigby shutout Cal State Fullerton, 2-0, in 1994
–Tech’s victory on Friday was its 52nd, establishing a new school record.
–Georgia Tech and Stanford remain as the only two teams who have yet to lose in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Since going to the expanded 64-team field in 1999, the three national championship teams each went undefeated through the NCAA tournament.
–Through six NCAA tournament games, Tech’s starting pitching has posted a 6-0 record, with a composite ERA of 0.64.
Remaining CWS Bracket One Schedule
(all times Eastern)Sunday1:00 p.m. South Carolina vs. Nebraska (ESPN)5:30 p.m. Georgia Tech vs. Clemson (ESPN2)
Tuesday 2:00 p.m. South Carolina/Nebraska winner vs. Clemson/Georgia Tech loser (ESPN)
Wednesday 7:00 p.m. Georgia Tech/Clemson winner vs. Tuesday winner (ESPN2)
Friday 2:00 p.m. Georgia Tech/Clemson winner vs. Tuesday winner (if necessary, ESPN2)
Saturday 1:30 p.m. National Championship (CBS)