Omaha stadium days numbered, but CWS memories live
By ERIC OLSON AP Sports Writer
OMAHA, Neb.(AP)—The College World Series ends a 61-year run at Rosenblatt Stadium next month, leaving behind some of college baseball’s most cherished memories for a new home a few miles away.
There was Warren Morris’ two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth home run that gave LSU the 1996 national championship. There was the afternoon in 1973 when Dave Winfield, an overpowering pitcher before he became a Hall of Fame slugger, held powerhouse Southern California to one hit over eight innings before Minnesota’s monumental collapse. Or how about the hot day back in 1965 when Ohio State’s Steve Arlin pitched 15 innings and struck out 20 in an elimination-game win over Washington State?
“Rosenblatt has provided a life-changing experience for more people than the city of Omaha knows,” said Augie Garrido of Texas, the winningest coach in college baseball.
The stadium opened in 1948 and began hosting the CWS in 1950. The concourse is narrow and dingy, the clubhouses are small and the amenities are few. Millions were spent on renovations over the past 25 years, but city leaders decided in 2008 that building a new, $128 million stadium would be the best way to keep the CWS in Omaha.
Many big leaguers look back with fondness at Rosenblatt and here’s a few reasons why it will remain a field of dreams:
Warren Morris, now an assistant bank vice president in Louisiana, was a journeyman second baseman for three teams over five major league seasons. He never batted higher than .288 or hit more than the 15 homers he had his rookie season for the Pirates. But in 1996, he delivered one of the CWS’ greatest moments.
A wrist injury that required surgery a month before the series had kept Morris out of 39 LSU games in 1996, and he wasn’t at full strength until regionals. On the day of the CWS championship game against Miami, Morris was batting ninth and had hit no home runs that season.
He came up against star Miami closer Robbie Morrison with two out in the bottom of the ninth, a man on third base and LSU trailing 8-7.
“I remember telling myself that whatever happens, just be aggressive,” Morris said. “I wasn’t going to look at strike three. I was going to go down swinging.”
On Morrison’s first pitch, the left-handed batting Morris hit a liner against the wind that barely cleared the right-field fence and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“If you watch the video, I’m running hard trying to get a double,” Morris said. “I thought it would be in for a base hit. I was shocked as anybody when it snuck over the fence.”
The images of Miami players falling to the ground as Morris rounded the bases are enduring, and Hurricanes coach Jim Morris later said he wasn’t able to get over Morris’ home run until Miami won the national title in 1999.
Never before, and never since, has a College World Series been won on a ninth-inning, walk-off homer.
“It did change my life,” Morris said, “mainly because it seems like everybody was watching that game. If I can be remembered for something as good as that and put a smile on people’s faces, that’s a great way to go out.”
For all that Dave Winfield accomplished in baseball, he admits to being impressed with what he did for the University of Minnesota in the 1973 series.
In a 1-0 win over Oklahoma, he held the Sooners to six singles and had 14 strikeouts, the last one ending the game with the bases loaded.
Winfield pitched again against USC and dominated the Trojans for seven innings. Minnesota led 7-0 going into the ninth, with Winfield allowing only an infield single and striking out 15. He tired in the ninth and left with a four-run lead, but the Gophers’ bullpen melted down and USC won 8-7, going on to win the fourth of five straight national titles.
“It has become legend, it has become lore,” Winfield said of his pitching, “but it’s true. I ended up being a major league player, All-Star and Hall of Famer and all of that, but I guess how I went out in my college career was kind of legendary.”
Winfield never pitched again. The San Diego Padres wanted him to be an everyday player in the outfield.
“I was 50-50 on that, and I asked the Padres if I could pitch, but they said no,” he said. “There were a few times in the big leagues, I was, ‘Oh, please, let me mop up.”’
Winfield hit 465 home runs in 22 major league seasons, mostly with the Padres and New York Yankees, and he went into the Hall of Fame in 2001. Sometimes lost in the discussion of Winfield’s pitching is the fact he went 7 for 15 with a home run in Minnesota’s four games in Omaha.
“Don’t forget to tell people that I could hit,” said Winfield, now an ESPN analyst and Padres’ executive vice president.
Steve Arlin once pitched 12 innings against Purdue in a regular-season game and went 16 against Michigan in the 1965 Big Ten championship game.
So he was just doing his thing that sultry afternoon a couple weeks later when he went 15 innings in a 1-0 CWS victory over Washington State. If games in those days were nationally televised, Arlin said, he could imagine the announcers screaming about how Buckeyes coach Marty Karow was abusing him.
“Or they might say, ‘Now there’s a real man,”’ Arlin said with a laugh.
Arlin struck out a CWS-record 20 batters that day as the Buckeyes and Cougars battled to stay alive in the tournament. Arlin had two pitches - fastball and curve - and he relied on his breaking pitch more as the game progressed.
“I was young and strong and there was no way I was going to be taken out of that game as long as I was doing what I wanted to do,” he said. “If you got a little tired, the curve would break a little more. I had good control over it. That got me through a lot of times.”
The next year, the Buckeyes won the national championship with Arlin on the mound in five of his team’s six games. He beat top-seeded USC twice, closed the championship game against Oklahoma State and was named Most Outstanding Player.
“I got a big kick out of beating Rod Dedeaux,” Arlin said, referring to USC’s renowned coach.
In his two years at the CWS, Arlin pitched 47 innings, allowed just 16 hits and compiled a 0.96 ERA. He said he never had arm trouble until the fifth of his six major league seasons, when a torn rotator cuff dogged him.
Arlin, a retired oral surgeon living in San Diego, said his durability came up recently while he was playing golf with his first major league pitching coach, former Giants manager Roger Craig.
“We were talking about how guys are going six innings now and being happy, and how management is happy with that, too,” he said. “I guess they don’t make pitchers like they used to.”
Will Clark, Robin Ventura and Huston Street are among many players who starred in Omaha before going off to the majors. Clark was the top vote-getter among fans and media for the College World Series Legends team, narrowly edging Winfield.
He played four games for Mississippi State in the 1985 CWS and went 7 for 15 with a double, triple, two home runs, five RBIs, six runs scored and three walks. On the same day he was drafted second overall behind B.J. Surhoff, Clark went 3 for 4 with a home run in a 5-4 win over Arkansas.
“Best day of my college career,” he said.
Oklahoma State’s Ventura took an NCAA-record 58-game hitting streak into a 1987 CWS game against Stanford.
Ventura went to the plate in the ninth inning needing a hit to extend the streak. He hit a hard grounder to second baseman Frank Carey, who bobbled the ball twice before throwing wildly past first baseman Ron Witmeyer.
Official scorer Lou Spry watched a video replay before he scored it a two-base throwing error, a decision that prompted boos in the stands.
Twenty-three years later, Spry, who remains the official scorer, stands by it. Ventura has no qualms, either.
“I hit it hard, but it was right at the second baseman, and he kept it in front of him,” he said. “It would have been nice to get a hit, but it really wasn’t that big a deal.”
Oklahoma State won the game 6-2 and advanced to the championship game.
“If someone told me at the beginning of the year that I wouldn’t get a hit in that game but would still go to the College World Series final, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Ventura said. “Everyone wants to get a hit, but the object is to win the game.”
Street, another member of the CWS Legends team, was a freshman in 2002 when he recorded saves in all four of the CWS wins by national champion Texas and was named Most Outstanding Player.
“I think getting a chance to close in the big leagues was absolutely a byproduct of that reputation,” Street said. “And that reputation did not start until 2002, Omaha, Nebraska, Rosenblatt Stadium.”
AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report from Denver.