Gamecocks Provide Fitting End To Rosenblatt

July 2, 2010

CB360 contributor Chase Titleman shares his thoughts on Rosenblatt and the national champion South Carolina Gamecocks …

For a stadium that has seen more remodels than Grandpa Jones’ country home, how fitting is it that South Carolina, a team remade many times over this season, is the final team left standing in 2010, the final year of existence for venerable Rosenblatt Stadium?

The two were a marriage made in heaven for college baseball fans that have had a 61-year crush on an old and outdated stadium, and a college baseball championship tournament that started with humble beginnings.

The parallels between the two are striking, a fitting end to a 61-year run of fun in the summer along the Missouri River within Nebraska’s eastern border.

Think about it.

Rosenblatt Stadium has been remade so many times over the years she looks like that house on the neighborhood street corner that has been remodeled so often that you faintly recognize the original design.

With a minimal concourse causing major traffic jams in between innings (or games for that matter thanks to the NCAA’s policy of emptying the stadium after every game), long lines to the restroom facilities, minimal shade to escape the 105-degree heat index, poor locker room facilities and a convoluted parking nightmare for the paying patrons eager to witness the splendor of it all, Rosenblatt certainly isn’t the most ideal stadium to host the sports grandest event.

The best thing you could say about Rosenblatt is that she has persevered through the years and weathered storm after storm from the NCAA figureheads (always demanding upgrades or the insult of removal of the College World Series from Omaha itself). She always has dusted herself off and answered the call, just like South Carolina did in 2010.

But what makes Rosenblatt so special isn’t the design of the stadium – although it certainly satisfies my lovefest for old time ballparks that reek of baseball’s long gone era of history and tradition. What makes Rosenblatt so hard to depart from, as she fades into the twilight of her career as an NCAA National Championship host site, is the people and the interlocking community that surrounds Bob Gibson Boulevard.

The people of Omaha and the surrounding community bring that good old-fashioned, down-to-earth, Midwestern sensibility with them each night to the ballpark, which makes for a sensational experience focused on family values and fun. It’s as American as hot dogs, apple pie, tailgating and fireworks amid the simmering summer heat along the Midwest in July … few NCAA events can touch it.

The friendships made at Rosenblatt are the type that transcend the test of time – the kind of relationships that last a lifetime, with baseball being the focal point that draws everyone together.

Together, the people of Omaha and that old venue of a diamond called Rosenblatt have provided the best experience a college baseball player ever could hope for. Many have used her to drive their dreams and ambitions in the off-season, to one day be a part of the magical show that runs the last two weeks of June each season.

Many times in life, we find that newer isn’t always better.

Sun sets on Rosenblatt Stadium

The College World Series was the last great secret in sports. It was a respite to a simpler time that was built around family entertainment, traditional values and fun. But like all things in sport, corporate America must seek her destructive influences, hidden within the suggestive concept of growth and progress, which at times is nothing more than a grand illusion, her tentacles march onward like a creeping vine.

There was no finer representation for America than Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha and the College World Series. A place where the crowd, the athletes and a stadium could unite and bring magical moments to fruition within the daily display of excellence.

What exactly did we need to change when we had the greatest secret in sports all to our own?

Forget the new fancy ballparks full of perks and modern architecture.  Rosenblatt didn’t need any to survive on her own. For all her faults, she provided her own uniqueness in a charming, magical manner. Once again, the same could be said of South Carolina for the Gamecocks ran against the grain of what a traditional champion appears to be.

If you were looking for perks at Rosenblatt, you didn’t need to venture any farther than Starsky’s Bar and Grill, or Zesto’s Ice Cream shop at the southern edge of the ballpark.  If you were looking for tailgating fun, there was nothing better than the upper parking lot, especially when LSU came to town, tooting their gumbo and seafood on the grill. We didn’t need corporate America, as we found so much more in a community built on giving all of her best (even if it was just one time a year, just as the athletes did on the field).

The College World Series will move downtown next year to a sterile and commercial environment, for corporate America demands her fair share of revenue within a spiraling economy. Corporate America doesn’t give a darn about middle America and her petty little neighborhoods. The hidden veil behind corporate America cares only about the bottom line – and as long as the means justifies the end, so be it, tradition be damned.

Big business wins and mainstream America is sent packing. We all lose in the process.

The same similarities can be said for this year’s South Carolina baseball club, although we lose nothing in the process of crowning the chicken as champ, for there are lesson’s galore that any collegiate athletic program can glean from within the confines of South Carolina’s baseball program.

The best team with the best players doesn’t always win; the team that performs the best often does win, and playing the best involves heart, desire, perseverance and overcoming adversity. There were 301 collegiate Division I baseball programs that began the year with the endgame of Omaha in mind, but none were better than the Gamecocks this season.

South Carolina was not the greatest team in the world – when considering the athleticism of the individual athletic parts – but they were the best team in terms of persevering and navigating a 20-week challenge course called the college baseball season. Not one team came close to overcoming the peaks and valleys of the game itself, especially when coming from behind or holding a close lead late in the game.

Just like the Rosenblatt concourse, the offense of the Gamecocks many times this year came to a screeching halt.  Such an offense wasn’t pretty to watch or experience, unless you particularly like an offense that survived in Omaha this year by getting the majority of its scoring rally’s started with two outs and no one on base.

But when the other team can’t score a run, what does it matter? It adds to the drama that can only be described when sitting in the stands and experiencing the scorching Nebraska sun.

Game-1 of the College World Series Championship game was a prime example. South Carolina’s two run rally in the opening inning turned the wheels of destiny in its favor. It started innocently enough … how about a bunt, a bloop, a check-swing and an error to build the framework for a national champion (all coming with two outs and not a soul on base)?

I am quite certain that this isn’t what coach Ray Tanner is looking for when he hits the recruiting trail each and every season, trying to design the inner makings of a champion. What he does look for is a player everyone hates to face, such as third baseman Adrian Morales – the type of player you hate to play against, but love to have on your team.

Or how about the tournament’s most outstanding player Jackie Bradley Jr., a player that I saw for the first time and immediately remarked about his hitting style: with the proper mix of balance and tilt seen in big-league hitters. You could see that instantly when Bradley smashed a curve-ball deep over the right-field wall.

While most of the amateur players stay square to the ground trying to orchestrate a planed swing for square contact, Bradley stays square to the pitch by tilting his body language as the barrel travels through the zone, allowing him to generate lift and leverage for a greater consistency in hitting balls out of the ballpark.

It was that kind of postseason for South Carolina, led by a bunch of unsung heroes grinding through the season with one whale of a player in Bradley to anchor the lineup. Hidden in plain sight for all to ignore was senior pitcher Blake Cooper, as his steady hand provided a calming influence and confidence boost to a struggling offense.

Although South Carolina had minimal outbursts of power, who could forget the smashing 8-spot put up on #1 seed Arizona State in the 2nd inning? The big hits came from Bradley, Christian Walker and Morales, as the Gamecocks posted their first of six consecutive victories (four of which they played with the fear of elimination hovering not far in the backdrop).

There probably were too many bloop hits from South Carolina, if you like traditional power baseball full of rockets sailing around the ballpark (as we often see with championship caliber baseball programs at the Division I level).

The postseason was a turbulent ride for South Carolina, starting with the season-ending series for the SEC regular-season championship (when the Gamecocks were soundly beaten by Florida). To compound the matter, South Carolina went 2-and-out in the SEC Tournament and promptly rode home on the bus and began a series of two-a-days to recapture their identity.

Whatever happened in between the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Columbia Regional certainly worked for Tanner, a down-to-earth coach with a special southern sensibility about him. Tanner came across as a family man who was guiding his team in a crowded stadium at Rosenblatt – which similarly is built on traditional values that include your word, your honor and trusting each other, the same values that drove the Gamecocks dugout to the national championship.

It was hard not to root for Tanner and his South Carolina squad. The Rosenblatt community must have felt the same way. The obvious underdog that captivated everyone’s attention this year was the TCU program. But when the Frogs were eliminated by the powerful pitching from a UCLA staff that featured seven 2010 MLB Draft selections, many then came to the realization that South Carolina actually had a pitching staff with better numbers and possibly a greater resolve than TCU’s. The South Carolina bunch never flinched as you could feel the tension mount throughout the championship clash between Pac-10 and SEC foes.

South Carolina had the resolve to survive and advance, focused on getting to the next pitch and the next inning – as Michael Roth proved in both of his unanticipated gems that helped guide his team to the national title. The team showed a resolve to survive and advance, along with a readiness and willingness to pitch on such short rest (as Cooper demonstrated throughout the tournament in his sterling performances).

The Gamecocks had a resolve to survive and advance versus the variables, which included the weather on multiple occasions and the umpiring on a few. UCLA certainly wilted on the final night when the umpiring didn’t go their way, nor could the Bruins contain their emotions, losing yet another player to a broken hand (yet again by their own doing).

The midnight conversation between pitching coach Mark Calvi and Cooper is certain to become the stuff of legend and championship lore in years to come around Columbia. And that brings us back to Rosenblatt Stadium, soon to be long forgotten within a decade by a younger generation that certainly will be captivated by the grand illusion of TD Ameritrade Park and the surrounding circus of entertainment.

While the Gamecocks were focused primarily on surviving and advancing pitch-by-pitch and inning-by-inning, perhaps their greatest motivation came in the form of a young fan, surviving from day-to-day versus a hidden an unseen opponent called cancer.

A touching moment came in the post-game national championship celebration, when Tanner – obviously choked with emotion – took nearly 30 seconds to gather himself to tell the story of the Gamecocks’ greatest fan and certainly the team’s largest inspiration for surviving to see another day when the end is near (both in terms of the championship season and Rosenblatt itself). Like life itself, all great things must end, but history moves onward.

There are many similarities between the Gamecocks and Rosenblatt, a great combination for college baseball in closing the only real championship chapter of history known to the sport.

And just like the injustice done to Rosenblatt herself, who could ignore the injustice surrounding Cooper’s missing name on the all-tournament team? (but not among CB360’s CWS Primetime Performers).

I agree wholeheartily that Bradley was the marquee player in this year’s CWS. But the player of the tournament has to go to Blake Cooper, for his performance illuminates the similarities found between Rosenblatt, South Carolina and college baseball itself.

How can you ignore a man who answered the call time and time again, only to be upstaged by the environment around him as the higher authority of the national media, representing corporate America herself, chose to upstage such a great competitor and a string of performances? He was hardly mentioned in the telecast when matched up against Gerrit Cole in Game-1.

Without Cooper, the Gamecocks most likely would not have advanced past Drew Pomeranz and Ole Miss in April, nor would they have defeated the CWS ace Cole and UCLA in June. While all the scouts were drooling over Matt Purke, Bauer and Cole, most only gave a passing glance to Cooper (as often is the case for some top college pitchers who don’t project as elite pro talent).

Ever heard of Greg Maddux? He didn’t throw hard either, and all he did was win for over 20 years in the big leagues, just as Cooper did in many of his 20 starts this season.

Like an overlooked stadium in her twilight, Cooper is symbolic of Rosenblatt herself. Let’s all tip our hats to South Carolina, Rosenblatt and Cooper, just an ordinary stadium, an ordinary team and an ordinary player that when combining all the parts together will become the final curtain-call for a grand old stadium. It all adds up as the stuff of legends in college baseball.

A fitting end to a great run for Rosenblatt and South Carolina.  Hail to the chicken!

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