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In virtually every sport, Nebraska fans are truly unique. Like few others, they find glory that stretches beyond their own parochial views. Frankly, I think that’s why the College World Series (CWS) in Omaha is one of sports’ greatest spectacles. It achieves that status year in and year out because Nebraska fans know how to get behind other teams and root for that one shining moment for any team they believe deserves it. As the CWS rolls on, and we approach the crowning of the next college baseball champion, the N-Sider has found the perfect proof point for that assumption. Her name is Kiley Abdouch, and her office is just down the hallway from mine. She’s 27 and a graduate of Papillion-LaVista (Neb.) High School. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNL and has been an NU Athletic Department employee for six years. She is also the most dyed-in-the-wool College World Series fan I have ever met. So I cringe a bit when national sports analysts dwell on the CWS phenomenon of fathers taking their sons to this grand event decade after decade – an honor that gets passed on from one generation to the next. Of course, that’s true. But let’s get one thing straight. The CWS experience goes well beyond fathers, sons and grandsons. There are countless dads with daughters and granddaughters who share the same captivating memories of an extended June week in Omaha and all the sights and sounds that go with it.
I say that remembering how I rebelled against my wife’s wishes and would pull our two daughters out of grade school, middle school and high school so they could watch the Kansas City Royals’ season home opener with their dad. That special day became one of our most priceless memories and only took one game to get the full blessing of a wife and mother who was an elementary school teacher and could see how enriching a day at the ballpark could be when we’d rehash the experience that night. Those memories are and always will be etched into our collective hearts and minds. But Kiley’s CWS experiences dig much deeper and cover infinitely more ground. Kiley’s highlight reel is life-long and continues to this day, so I asked her to share with N-Sider readers why the CWS is so special and why Omaha has been the only permanent home for every NCAA championship in a single sport. As the coordinator of communications for the Huskers Athletic Fund, Kiley went to great lengths to describe her family’s love affair with the CWS. Her account is a sentimental journey filled with insight and nostalgia and well worth reading to the end. It explains why the fire continues to burn so brightly as a young woman awaits the re-emergence of Nebraska playing again on her favorite stage. The voice you hear from here on out is Kiley's:
Kiley Sees Series through a Uniquely Personal Lens
“Reflecting back, it’s hard for me to pick a favorite Series memory because there are so many to choose from. My father has been going to games since 1958; his parents have had season tickets since the first year they were offered. My grandmother, a firecracker of a woman whose wheelchair takes over where her legs cannot, has attended at least one game nearly every year that the Series has been in Omaha, despite the loss of her husband, her health, and now her stadium. She passed along that love of the CWS to my dad, who, along with my mom, took me to my first game in June of 1985 – when I was just 10 months old. I haven’t missed a year since.
“There are, of course, the landmark games. I was six years old when Omaha darling Brian O’Connor, now the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, lost a heartbreaker to Wichita State in one of the greatest games ever seen at Rosenblatt Stadium. (My dad will argue that Bob Garibaldi’s 1962 performance for Santa Clara in the championship game against then-powerhouse Michigan was THE greatest. I wasn’t there to provide a ruling – perhaps someone else can weigh in on that.) I was sitting toward the top of Section P, screaming with the LSU fans, when Warren Morris hit his walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the championship game for the Tigers over the Miami Hurricanes. There was Nebraska’s first game, a one-run loss to Cal State Fullerton, headed up at the time by George Horton (who now coaches at Oregon), one of my favorite coaches to watch in Omaha.
”But none of those are my favorite memories. Those memories that I mark as favorites are those that are special to me because of something intangible, something other than the game itself. Sure, there are years when I’ve cheered like no other for a particular team or coach or player, and I tend to be a purist when it comes to the Series – I’d rather see a good game played well in a neutral setting than see a huge crowd for one team turn the place into a home game. But the thing that makes the Series so unique is that it’s about more than runs and strikes and stolen bases.
One Final Visit to Rosenblatt: A Sentimental Journey
”As I visited Rosenblatt Stadium for the final time this past weekend, I was struck by how sentimental I got seeing the old girl, all boarded up and fenced in, a shell of what she was. I had brought my boyfriend, who enjoyed his first College World Series game Friday night, up to the old stadium to go inside for the first time and have a malt at Zesto and visit the Stadium View memorabilia shop across the street. But the heavy rain had forced officials to keep fans out of the stadium on Saturday morning. To my shame, I was a little teary – after all, it’s just a building – but as he reminded me, it’s a building that houses things I’d forgotten ... days I hadn’t thought of in years that came back to me from certain angles or certain gates. But what I realized is that my favorite memories aren’t tied up in the bricks and steel that built Rosenblatt, nor in the scores and stats of the games that took place there over the years. My favorite memories are those involving the people who made it all so special.
“I remember my summer family, who used to sit in the four seats next to us in Rosenblatt and now sit in the row behind us because thankfully we weren’t separated in the move to the new park. Their daughter first brought a boyfriend, then a husband, then a daughter of her own. I just learned this year that their son proposed to his girlfriend last month at the spot where they met – outside Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I remember my years of learning to cheer for whatever team the Kiwanis Club of Omaha was hosting. My grandfather was a member, and so we always cheered for the team they were assigned each year. I remember sitting with my grandparents in Section J, screaming my head off for LSU or Auburn or whoever Grandpa said to cheer for. He passed in October of 1993, but I’ll never forget him telling me, “Bright Eyes, they won’t hit the ball unless you cheer for them to” when I was very young. I probably drove the fans around me nuts.
Diverted Attention and a Noble Gesture with HR Ball
“I remember my first game in the general admission seats in the outfield, when the boy I went with, who I thought was the greatest guy ever, sat with me and we talked through the entire game. Miami was playing Texas but I don’t know the score. It was a teen crush that never went beyond that and has since gone by the wayside – I haven’t spoken to the boy in years – but I remember the feeling of summer and promise sitting there in the sweltering heat of the afternoon not really watching two teams I didn’t particularly care about provide a platform to wonder if he bumped into me on purpose.
“I remember the first home run ball caught – it was actually a friend who nabbed it, but I’ll claim the memory nonetheless. Nebraska was playing Arizona State, and Jeff Larish became one of just a few players to hit three home runs in a single game. We caught his second, a shot that made it four rows into the stands in right center field. I told my friend to throw it back but he ignored me. After the game, which Nebraska lost 8-7 despite a heroic effort to put the game in extra innings, we decided that the ball should go back to its rightful owner – Larish. We found the team’s parents outside the stadium by the bus, were directed to his family, and waited with them until he finished his postgame interviews. When we gave him the ball, his eyes lit up, and he was left nearly speechless. That reaction will stay with me forever.
“I remember my first Opening Ceremony, watching the players make their entrances to the stadium Olympic-style, carrying their team flags, turning around in center field to watch their highlights on the screen, holding video cameras, trying to capture the huge crowds cheering just for them. It’s always so touching and so sweet to see their eagerness to be there, and their excitement is palpable.
As CWS Ambassador, She Went Behind the Scenes
“I remember my year serving as a College World Series Ambassador after college, when I was afforded a more behind-the-scenes look at the event I loved so much. It was one thing to cheer for a player or coach who seemed like a nice person in the news. It took on an entirely different level when I actually was able to meet and spend time with them. I learned that I’m bad luck at a casino watching coaches play roulette; that Coach David Perno at Georgia and Coach Mike Fox at North Carolina are two of the most genuine, kind men in the game who will go out of their way to make sure their team and fans have the best experiences possible; I learned that although I had actively cheered AGAINST them, the Miami baseball team was actually made up of some very brave men who had faced (and overcome) more adversity in life than they’d ever see on the field, but were better for it; and so much more. That was an unforgettable season for everything except the baseball games themselves.
“I remember my first morning game, when a rain delay in 2010 pushed the last several innings of the South Carolina-Clemson game to the next day. My dad and I were at Rosenblatt bright and early, sitting in the box seats because the stadium only had a handful of people there, eating funnel cake (because what else would you have in the morning?). Dad said it reminded him of the first several years of the Series in Omaha, when attendance was just a few thousand at best, when fans could buy a general admission ticket but sit in the first row if they wanted. As one of the final games at Rosenblatt, it seemed like a fitting throwback to years gone by.
“I remember my last few games at Rosenblatt, when I met some new friends from around the country who come back every year to cover the CWS for the various media outlets for whom they write. I met one while standing in line for a hot fudge malt at Zesto, when he interviewed my dad and me for a story, and we wound up showing him around the landmark tailgates. I remember the flamingoes with their team-color beads and shrouds for those already eliminated, the LSU fans with their pots of jambalaya and crawfish, the place Dingerville used to be – and became fast friends. The next day, he introduced me to his colleagues, some of whom I still keep in touch with, and who have enriched my experience at the Series even more just by knowing them.
Haunting Trumpet Solo Sounded More like Taps
“I remember my final championship game at Rosenblatt, when South Carolina picked up its first national championship. The postgame video, followed by a trumpet soloist playing “Take Me Out to The Ballgame”, will forever haunt me. I know the tune is different but I swear it still sounded like Taps.
“As we move forward now, with the beautiful new ballpark in a new area with new haunts and hangouts, I keep coming back to one thing – it’s still the same Series, the same teams, the same coaches, the same fans who made it all so special. Maybe Coach Erstad will bring Nebraska there. Maybe I’ll get to see some more of those landmark games that people mark the way they do holidays. Maybe Cinderella will dance her way to the championships like Santa Clara again. What I DO know is that this event is unlike any other in athletics – professional, collegiate, Little League – and that, come mid-June every year that I’m able, you’ll find me in Grandma’s seats, thinking of the old Section J, cheering on whoever the Kiwanis Club sponsors because Grandpa said to, and filing away the new memories to recall someday when I’m asked again to talk about why the College World Series is so special.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
This is awesome. Kiley captured the essence of the CWS as well as anything I’ve ever read. WOW! Steve Sinclair, Omaha, Nebraska