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Monday, July 28, 2014
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Hobbs Column: Visiting a long-gone old friend

Last Modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 2:53 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

OMAHA, Neb. — Driving out 10th Street I wasn’t sure. Wasn’t sure I wanted to go there.

I’d been in Omaha several days and resisted this urge to go visit an old friend.

But curiosity got the best of me, I had to go see where Rosenblatt Stadium, the most honest ballpark in America, used to be. Call it closure.

Still, as I approached the last hill, the one with the old Rexall’s drug store on the corner, I hesitated, thought about making an illegal U-turn and heading back downtown.

But I eased forward, knowing full well what was on the other side.

Most likely nothing — a nothing that replaces one of the grandest views of Americana, a view that never failed to awe you when you looked down 10th Street and then back up the steep hill that led to the back of the Rosenblatt Stadium outfield bleachers, beyond which was the proud, sturdy fortress plopped atop the highest spot in Omaha.

Well, actually, I forgot there were big tree limbs hanging over 10th Street that temporarily block the expansive view when you first top that final hill.

So it took another quarter-block.

I guess I was expecting a vast wasteland.

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium was still over there to the left, dominated by the geodesic dome of the Mutual Of Omaha Wild Kingdom Pavilion.

Halfway down the incline behind the old bleachers, there was earth-digging excavation of some sort going on.

No idea what for.

But I often wondered if people who saw Rosenblatt only on TV knew of the steep hill beyond. Any home run that cleared the bleachers — and this was back when college ball players used to hit the occasional dinger — might travel 800 or 900 feet once it got going down that slippery slope.

At the foot of that slope used to be a popular tailgating area for LSU fans, which made it the central meeting spot for the Tigers’ local Cornhusker Alumni to sample the exotic eats that were always grilling, boiling or simmering.

Nothing there now.

But I took a right on Bob Gibson Drive, over to 10th street, to drive up past what used to be the left-field bleachers, usually obscured during the College World Series by the herd of ESPN trailers.

Nothing.

Actually, you’d climb another small hill to get to the stadium proper.

Now you climb that hill from the sliver of a street-side parking lot and find … more parking lots. A parking lot as far as the eye can see, all the way over to the zoo.

This is sad. This is where Rosenblatt stood. This is where the ballpark seemed to spread out from the top-heavy blue press box in all different directions and angles as the add-ons and expansions kept up with the growing popularity.

They didn’t totally forget about the old girl.

My favorite touch is that the foul poles are still standing in their original locations, looking a bit odd rising up out of a parking lot. The foul lines are still painted across the concrete lot leading to the poles.

The right field one now towers above what is the zoo’s D lot — further identified as the “Cheetah” lot.

Have they no sense of history? Couldn’t it be the “Tiger” lot and still fit into the zoo’s master plan?

About 10 feet to the left and three rows back from the pole is where Warren Morris’ 1996 walk-off home run landed.

On this day, the most famous home run in college baseball history would have shattered the windshield of a mini-van.

The tourist attraction, however, is back over where home plate was.

I’m not sure what to think about it.

The parking lot spared an area big enough to put a Little League-dimension infield from the original home plate. They put a few of the wonderful blue, yellow and red chairbacks around the thing and stuck the top of the old scoreboard — The “ROSENBLATT” lettering — behind them.

The dirt areas are rubber and no little kid who drops by can resist running the bases.

This day several groups of LSU fans dropped by reminiscing and trying to get their bearings.

“We were sitting over there in ’09,” one guys said pointing across some cars but up toward nothing.

“No, it would be a little to the left,” his buddy corrected.

They asked if I’d take their picture at home plate.

This is where the mob scene met Morris as the burly ump waded in to make sure he touched home plate. This is where Ryan Theriot slid and flung his helmet with the walk-off winning run of LSU’s 2000 national championship.

Today it’s a popular photo-op for nostalgic fans.

A nice touch, I guess. At least they acknowledge what they had.

But somehow it looks more like a Disney mini-version of an American original.

Not so across 13th Street.

The dilapidated Stadium View looked just as I had last seen it. I was a little surprised that the sports memorabilia and souvenir shop was open this day; back in the day it was always bustling, along with several others up and down the street, not to mention the tents in the vacant lots peddling their wares.

But if Stadium View was open, I knew owner Greg Pivovar would be inside.

Pivovar, an old friend, is stubborn. He’s trying to stay open even with no games in the neighborhood and very few customers.

The famous Zesto’s ice cream place down the street, probably the most overrated legend of the CWS, is closed and will soon be rusting. It got famous by delivering its wares to ESPN’s booth, where they’d rave about what, at the end of the day, was pretty ordinary soft-serve ice cream.

But strict business practices have never been Pivovar’s driving force.

He would always rather give you a free beer from his ice chest than sell you a T-shirt, which even on this slow day startles first-time visitors wondering what the catch is.

There is none.

Since opening in 1992, he’s kept a running tally and the beer give-away is now up to 53,334 cold ones. He has no idea how many T-shirt or caps or old Sports Illustrateds he’s sold.

Not so many this day. Pivovar doesn’t know how much longer he can justify staying open.

But he’s hopeful. He has a day job.

This is his labor of love, and the hard-core baseball fans who drop by tend to get more baseball history than sales pitches.

He hasn’t even been over to see the Disney shrine where Rosenblatt used to be yet.

“Might go tomorrow,” he said.

He says that every day.

I stayed for two hours, enjoying old company, adding a few to the beer tally.

It was nice to see something hadn’t changed.

• • •

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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