Recap - Royals 7, Tigers 3
When they first announced last year that there would be a major league game played in Omaha in 2019, I got kind of excited.
First, because it gave me another new stadium to visit but mainly since it gave me a great reason to visit a part of the country that I have wanted to see for some time. So, when I planned the trip out a few months ago, I decided to make it a multi-day, multi-state journey through the American Great Plains.
I mapped out a travel plan for 6 days starting in Iowa and continuing on to Nebraska, Kansas and finally Oklahoma.
I flew from Newark to Des Moines early yesterday AM. Des Moines is hardly what anyone would ever consider a tourist destination, but I actually found it to be a really fun city to spend a day in. The city is the home of the Iowa Cubs, the AAA affiliate of the 2016 World Champs. I made sure to get out and see their home field Principal Park.
Other nice parts of the city is the Historic East Village and the Court District which is laden with some really nice bars and restaurants. I started out in the Court Ave. Brewing Company where one of the special brews that day was Strawberry Milkshake. After a few, I headed to Fong’s Pizza which is a really unique fusion of Asian food and Pizza (I had the egg roll pizza).
Early this morning, I hopped in my rental car and drove down I-80 W for about 2 hours getting into Omaha (which is just over the Iowa/Nebraska border) around 11 AM. Omaha is a fun city with some interesting attractions and neighborhoods. After checking into my hotel, I made my way over to The Old Market – an eclectic neighborhood has a rich history of arts and culture brimming with great dining and shopping options. Since Omaha is the birthplace of the Reuben Sandwich, naturally that is what I had for lunch. After lunch, I walked over to and spent a couple hours in the Durham Museum - Housed in Omaha's former art-deco Union Station, the museum is dedicated to preserving and displaying the history of the United States' western region. With still a few hours before the game, I drove over to the Missouri river and walked across ‘Bob the Bridge’, one of the more popular attractions in Omaha. The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, is a walking bridge connecting Council Bluffs, IA to Omaha's Riverfront, just north of Downtown. It is an s-curved cable-stayed bridge with a striking, modern design and the first ever pedestrian bridge to connect two states, with plaques highlighting the point over the Missouri River where the state lines meet. This allows those walking the bridge to literally have one foot in Nebraska and one foot in Iowa!
I got to TD Ameritrade park around 6 PM. There was a pretty powerful buzz of energy in the air given this being the first time ever that a MLB game is being played in Nebraska. From what I’ve been told though, the energy is at least this intense every year in Omaha during the College WS. The College World Series has been held in Omaha since 1950, and will continue to be hosted there through at least 2035. It is a really big event in this city with lots of wonderful history. Prior to TD Ameritrade opening in 2011, the games used to be played at Rosenblatt Stadium which used to be right next door. Many Omaha residents and traditionalists, we were dismayed when Omaha officials announced plans to build a new downtown ballpark for the College World Series, abandoning Rosenblatt, but sentiments have eased since as this is a bigger and more comfortable setting.
TD Ameritrade is also the home ballpark for the Creighton Bluejays (NCAA Big East) college team. With a seating capacity of around 24,000, it rivals most AAA ballparks in size and is considerably bigger than the cross-town Werner Park which is the host stadium for the Royals AAA affiliate Omaha Storm Chasers.
The game today is nationally televised by ESPN and is serving as a promo for the upcoming College WS, which begins in 2 days, giving it more exposure and buildup. Before and during the game, clips of great moments in WS history were shown on the scoreboard, all eight teams competing in the WS were introduced before the game, and (along with commissioner Rob Manfred) two former MLB Stars who were College WS heroes (Barry Larkin, Dave Winfield) were on hand and introduced.
Throughout the park, there are a number of displays showing the history of the WS, but not as many as I would have expected. The biggest feature was the ‘Road to Omaha’ statue at the main entrance which was brought over from Rosenblatt.
The park was easy to get around and the sight lines were great. The concessions were decent but didn’t rival what you get at an MLB park. The best offering was the BBQ pit beef, but that also had the longest line. What surprised me was how dirty the seats were. There must have been 2 inches of dust on them and many of the cup holders were filled with cob webs. It’s almost as if the park was idle for the last year and they opened it up 30 minutes before game time.
Despite this being a meaningless game between two of MLBs worst teams, the fans were involved and enthused all game. Most of the fans were rooting for the Royals – given that this is the host city to their AAA team and Kansas City is less than 200 miles away – but there was a decent representation of Tiger fans as well. There was a couple sitting in front of me with crudely designed t-shirts. On the back of the man’s shirt was printed “If Lost, Return to Babe” and on the woman’s shirt was printed “I am Babe”. While this is kind of clever while the two of them are standing next to each other, I’m not sure what people would think if they read either one of them while they were separated. All of the fans that I spoke with were really friendly, but that is perfectly consistent with all of the mid-Western parks that I’ve been to.
The park is located just off I-480 in an active and bustling part of the city right nearby CenturyLink Center (a multi-purpose arena that hosts sporting events, concerts, etc.) and there are plenty of places to grab a drink or meal before and after the game.
For a game with the two teams combined records being 46-86, it was pretty exciting. Recently acquired KC pitcher Homer Bailey tossed 6 innings of 2 hit ball, Whit Merrifield, who had the CWS-winning hit in 2010 for South Carolina, had two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored and former Creighton Star Nicky Lopez hit his first major league homer to a thunderous applause as the Royals coasted to a 7-3 victory.
Alex Gordon, a Royals star for years and a Nebraska native who played his college baseball at Nebraska, was out of the lineup because he was hit by a pitch last night.
Tomorrow I am headed down to Wichita (making a pit-stop for lunch in Topeka and then onto Oklahoma City before heading back home. My next trip is at the end of this month across the pond to London to see the Yankees and Red Sox in the first game ever played in England.
Fans - A – Omaha may be the most baseball crazy city that does not have a major league franchise. With a long history of minor league baseball and the annual college WS, the fans are as energetic and involved as most major league venues that I've been to.
Features - C - TD Ameritrade is a small, quaint no-frills park with no real standout features. Most of the displays I saw were for Creighton baseball. Kind of surprising there wasn't a dedicated section for the collage WS history. the 'Road to Omaha' statue out front was a nice feature.
Location - B - Right in the heart of downtown and easily accessible by all transportation. Some decent options for pre or post game fun.
Food - C - Some decent choices - grilled burgers, etc. Nothing like in the majors
Game - B - Despite the contest being between 2 of the worst teams in baseball, it was a fun contest with a local homegrown hero having a great game
Overall Experience - B- - Very different than what I've experienced in the bigger ballparks - but a very fun time nonetheless