It was two years ago that Louisville made their last trip to Omaha, with what may go down as the greatest collection of talent in the baseball program’s history. You had the national player of the year in Brendan McKay, a two-way dynamo who would crush you with either his lefty skillset on the mound, or hitting .300+ at the plate. You also had a phenomenal cast of pitchers, with righties Kade McClure and Lincoln Henzman leading the charge, a freshman Nick Bennett beginning to forge his own legacy in Louisville. A host of local talent like Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis, Lexington’s Devin Hairston, and Logan Taylor gave Louisville everything you needed on both ends: power, defense, and speed at all levels of the field.
2017 was also when I decided to make my first — and so far only — trip to Omaha for the College World Series. This is my untold story from Omaha, as well as a guide for those ever planning to make the trip to the College World Series.
The Drive To
Keeping it (ironically) short and sweet, the drive to and from Omaha was pretty lengthy altogether (at least 12 hours both ways, counting a couple of gas stops I had to make). I left work late Saturday night to drive up there to cover Louisville’s first game on Father’s Day, passing through St. Louis and Kansas City before turning north to Omaha. Aside from some heavy rain when I was driving past St. Louis, it was an easy commute. The sightseeing for both cities definitely made it a little easier than most trips, as I had never really been anywhere west of the Mississippi River before (I never got to travel a whole ton when I was younger). Seeing both Arrowhead and Kauffmann Stadium (home to the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, respectively) from the interstate for the first time was pretty awesome.
The Omaha Experience
When I came back to Louisville Friday night, the first questions, naturally, were, “How was your trip? What was it like going up to Omaha for that?”
My answer was always the same: phenomenal. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I’ve had the chance to attend many different things. I’ve been a season-ticket holder for Louisville football since 2012, and I’ve seen many games where Cardinal Stadium was roaring. I’ve been to many big basketball games at the KFC Yum Center (especially this past season), including the thrilling Elite Eight game this past March between Purdue and eventual national champion Virginia (sidebar, I think Carsen Edwards just hit another 30-footer). I’ve been to an NFL game, NBA game, and last April, I went to my first MLB game with my stepbrother in Atlanta. I’ve also been to Notre Dame for the Louisville v. Notre Dame football game in November 2014, which to this day, still is one of my favorite sports memories of all-time.
Comparing my experience in Omaha to those would feel unfair to all parties involved, for two reasons. One, a national championship caliber event would always trump these events in terms of the experience, mainly because the stakes are higher and the celebration everyone would have if your team won the national title. I guarantee if you polled every Louisville fan that had the chance to go watch the 2013 National Championship in person, everyone of them (or at the least, nine out of ten) would rank it as the best sporting event they ever attended.
The second reason is that the College World Series is so unique compared to the rest of the NCAA sports’ national championships. In a day where corporate dollars and big markets have seized a majority of sports’ biggest events, the College World Series has managed to stay true to its roots. College baseball’s premier event has made Omaha its home since 1950. Even as it lost profit during ten of its first 12 years of hosting the event in Omaha, the founders of the event never wavered, and insisted on keeping the event in their hometown. Their efforts have paid off in total, and now Omaha is the epicenter of the college baseball world.
And it’s not leaving anytime soon, as the event is slated to stay at TD Ameritrade Park through 2035. Nor should it leave. The city truly embraces the event and makes it a must-see for all college baseball enthusiasts. From the fan fests outside the stadium to the fans that meet at the epicenter from all corners of the country, it’s truly a positive atmosphere that feels very welcoming to everyone who attends, whether you have a team in the College World Series or not.
Things to do in Omaha
While I had a couple of days off when Louisville wasn’t playing, I wanted to stop by some key tourist destinations in Omaha.
One of the first stops I made was the Omaha Zoo. One of the most notable features of the zoo is the desert dome that is visible from almost anywhere in close proximity of it. The desert dome is the world’s largest indoor desert, featuring animal and plant life from three deserts across the world. It also has an aquarium inside the zoo, an aviary, and many other features inside the zoo, definitely worth checking out if you have the time for it.
Also, for those that are privy to the history of the College World Series, a recreation of the old Rosenblatt Stadium sits in the parking lot of the Omaha Zoo. Rosenblatt was the former home of the College World Series until 2010. My only personal regret is that I wasn’t able to experience a College World Series in that stadium.
I also visited the Gerald R. Ford Birthsite & Garden in Omaha. Gerald Ford is the only U.S. president born in Nebraska, and this site was his childhood home. For those that are even mildly enthused by history like I am, it’s a cool look into the history of the 38th President of the United States. It has mementos from his life, including some of his personal gear and retells his story from Omaha to the White House.
Next time around, I would want to check out Pioneer Courage Park and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The Joslyn Art Museum also looks like a must-visit for any making the trip up to Omaha.
In terms of restaurants, I didn’t try out a whole lot of new places there. There is a place right by the stadium called Blatt Beer and Table, if you’re looking for something conveniently across from the stadium. Ted Cahill, a national writer for Baseball America, also had some recommendations on Twitter:
My Omaha dining recommendations
– Kitchen Table
– Block 16
– La Buvette
– The Blackstone Meatball
– Voodoo Taco
(FYI, The Drover is still closed after a fire this winter)
— Teddy Cahill (@tedcahill) June 13, 2019
You can also check out places such as Johnny’s Cafe, Gorat’s, and Cascio’s. D1baseball.com also has a very comprehensive guide for visitors to Omaha, as well as their preview of the College World Series.
The Drive Back
After Louisville was eliminated by TCU on Thursday night, it would be time for me to return home.
The drive home Friday was much easier than the drive to Omaha, considering I had the entire day to drive back. I did make a stop in Kansas City at Q39 for lunch, it was absolutely fantastic (Kansas City barbecue is great). I actually contemplated going to the Royals game at Kauffman that day, but passed up on it because I likely wouldn’t get home until 4 or 5 a.m. (the Royals ended up walking off in the ninth, so I definitely missed the opportunity here).
I returned home to Louisville, knowing that what I had just experienced was something once in a lifetime. Not only because that was my first time covering an event of that magnitude, but how vibrant and jubilant the city of Omaha is in hosting an event like this. In a lot of ways, it’s like Louisville hosting the Kentucky Derby every year. Both cities go all-out to make this event as big as possible, and citizens take great pride in knowing how much it means to their communities.
Will I go back to Omaha for the College World Series? Absolutely. I don’t know when that will be, but I’ll make every attempt that I can to make this a reality in the near future.
Should you ever go to Omaha, if time (and money) permits? Absolutely.