Tag Archives: Rosenblatt Stadium

Obviously Omaha

June 15, 2016 by

Matt1Celebrate 
The Old Mattress Factory Bar (The Matt) is self described as Omaha’s Best Event Bar. The Matt has everything you’re looking for when it comes to lunch, dinner, a night out in Omaha, or in planning your next event.

Blatt1Savor
Blatt Beer & Table boasts an attractive food menu, along with a sweeping lineup of beer options. Holding close to its Omaha roots, the Blatt gets its namesake from the old Rosenblatt Stadium, and every Tuesday the Blatt offers half off any beer brewed in Nebraska.

Filmstreams1View
Founded as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2005, Film Streams is a two-screen cinema committed to screening films based on their creative, artistic, and social merits. Film Streams plays host to the film fanatic and the leisurely movie goer alike.

Hotel1Rest
Homewood Suites Omaha Downtown is a classic, extended stay hotel that sits just across from TD Ameritrade Park. Enjoy restful nights during the hectic College World Series in the traditionally furnished rooms, which come with fully equipped kitchens, dining tables, free WiFi, and flat-screen TVs. A free hot breakfast is provided, as well as a complimentary light dinner and drinks.

UrbanOutfitters1Threads
Urban Outfitters is known for a vast array of on trend fashion choices, accessories, and home-decor items. Looking to take your aesthetic to the next level? This is your place. Explore the multi level establishment where you will find everything from record players and hipster duds, to coffee mugs.

TrueBlue1

Shop
True Blue Goods and Gifts strives to highlight national and local artisans as well as unique-to-Omaha merchandise including visual art, jewelry, pottery, bags, children’s goods, home décor, candles, cards, and much more!

The Gillaspie Family

May 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The satellite dish outside Mark and Dianne Gillaspie’s west Omaha home beams in more than movies; it lets them dial up their sons’ latest swings, scoops, and slides on the baseball diamond, a scenario many people dream about but rarely experience. The couple multiplies by two the thrills and agonies of watching their children play professional ball.

Their older son, Conor, 28, has returned to the San Francisco Giants, while Casey, 23, advances through the minor league levels of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Talk about beating the odds: According to an NCAA study, the chances of a high school player making the big leagues is one in 6,600. But then, the Gillaspie (pronounced Gillespie) family has beaten the odds before. Conor and Casey’s base path to success mirrors their father’s.

“I was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1981, my senior year at Mississippi State,” says Mark, an All-American right fielder who taught himself to switch hit on the sandlots of Omaha. “I played ball with my friends all the time, from morning ’til night,” he recalls of his “good” childhood, when summers also meant sitting in the old Rosenblatt Stadium watching the College World Series. “My senior year we were able to make it to the CWS, winning our first game.

“I miss Rosenblatt. I think most baseball fans do,” he says.

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Before Mark reported to rookie ball in Walla Walla, Washington, he became engaged to a pretty softball player studying physical therapy at MSU. He and Dianne bridged the time apart the old fashioned way.

“He wrote me a letter every single day,” says Dianne, smiling. “There were no cell phones back then.”

Mark’s letters, no doubt, filled Dianne in about his teammates drafted in the same class, names now part of baseball lore: All-Star outfielder/first baseman-turned-ESPN analyst John Kruk (Mark’s roommate), and the man who would become “Mr. Padre,” the late, great Tony Gwynn. Mark still chuckles when he remembers the first day of practice.

“We’re in our ugly Padres uniforms, hanging around the batting cage, snickering at this really large kid from Los Angeles who didn’t look like an athlete at all. Well, our first game, he hits four balls off the wall. Two weeks later, he was called up to the next level.”

In fact, within a year, Tony Gwynn would make it to the Show.

Mark reached his ceiling at Triple-A. The Padres, so rich in talent during the ’80s, never had a place for him. Accepting reality, especially since he now had Conor, Mark pursued his second interest—law enforcement.

An Omaha police officer for almost 20 years, Mark currently serves as the school resource officer at his alma mater, Central High School. He has no regrets. “I’ve met the best people in my life,” he says of his fellow officers. “These are my brothers. I would do anything for them.”

Mark and Dianne never prodded or pushed their children into a life of sports, even though the natural athletic skills of all three, including daughter Makenzie, rose to the surface early.

“Makenzie is the best athlete in the family, “ says her proud dad. “She won all-state honors in softball and soccer at Elkhorn.” She’s now a soccer coach in Kansas City.

Luckily for her brothers, she didn’t compete in baseball.

“Conor told me when he was four years old he was going to be in the big leagues,” Dianne recalls. He stayed true to his word.

Conor and Casey willingly and happily put the backyard batting cage to use when they wanted to practice their swings, with dad often throwing pitches. They played in Little League. They both went to Millard North High School and Wichita State. Each caught the eye of scouts their junior year, earning first-round draft pick honors. The similarity ends with their personalities.

At 6 feet 5 inches and 240 pounds, Casey “is our teddy bear—a big, lovable kid, real easy going,” says his mom.  Adds Mark, “Somebody that big who can hit the ball out of the park from both sides of the plate attracts a lot of interest.”

Disciplined, strong-willed, and hardworking characterize Conor, who slugged his way to a big league call-up that eluded his father. He won a World Series ring in 2012 as a part-time third baseman with the Giants, only to be traded to the White Sox the next year.

“He had a good first year with the Sox, but the second year his production trailed off,” says Mark. “He’s now back with the team that drafted him.”  Mark, who spent eight years in the minors, knows all too well that, “baseball is a game of failure. You’re going to screw up.”

That’s why he and Dianne don’t pay attention to what fans say or write about either son. They just call the kids on the phone and talk about “normal family stuff.” For the Gillaspies, family is what really matters.

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The Mittmender

March 30, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Anyone who brings a baseball glove to The Mittmender for repair knows Dan and Linda Bouska don’t stand on formality. Customers have to traipse through Linda’s beauty salon—attached to the north side of the couple’s home on 60th Street near Center—to find the basement stairs that lead to Dan, aka The Mittmender, and his workshop. Linda’s loyal hair clients never bat an eyelash at the extra traffic. After 33 years of witnessing this happy, overlapping mom-and-pop operation, they get the picture.

Down in Dan’s dungeon, gloves lie scattered on the floor and on his workbench, each tagged with a small piece of scrap paper. “It’s not the most organized system,” Dan admits, his head down as he threads new laces. “I had enough organization when I was a teacher. I haven’t lost a glove yet.”

Re-lacing comprises a majority of Dan’s work, but he deals with a variety of mitt maladies: shredded, torn, chewed, ripped, slashed, discolored, de-fingered, moldy, burned—even one soaked in motor oil. “That thing had to weigh at least 10 pounds,” Dan recalls. “It was one of the very few gloves I couldn’t save. The guy asked me, ‘What am I supposed to do with it?’ I said, ‘Light it on fire.’”

Wearing a white T-shirt that matches the color of his scruffy beard, Dan Bouska (pronounced BO-shkah) projects a demeanor as calm as Mariano Rivera on the mound in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and no outs. Nothing gets to him, whether working on one glove, an entire team’s gloves, or fielding an emergency call from the College World Series.

“I was at Lake Okoboji [Iowa] on vacation when the trainer for South Carolina called me and said they needed a catcher’s mitt fixed by game time against Oklahoma.”

Dan hopped in his car, reached Omaha in three hours, fixed the glove by 5 p.m., “and then I watched my glove on TV at 7. Pretty cool.”

A week later, the Gamecocks closed out the Rosenblatt Stadium era by winning the CWS championship. Dan’s payment of choice? A ball autographed by the 2010 team.

Another kind of reward happens every spring, when Dan watches a few major leaguers and remembers when they were skinny kids whose fathers brought their ripped gloves to The Mittmender—kids like Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous pitcher traded to Toronto in the offseason.

“I don’t do this job to get rich. I do it because I love it,” he explains after declining to reveal his prices. Suffice to say he doesn’t charge much above the cost of materials. Recently retired after 42 years as a sixth grade teacher in South Omaha, where he was born to parents of Bohemian descent, Dan began his self-taught sideline because he couldn’t bear to part with his old mitt. He reveres the game that connects fathers to sons and daughters and he understands why some customers ask him to keep a ball in their glove when he sets it down for the night.

“When a person brings me an old glove, I know how much they love it. And I love it that much, too, so I always do what they ask and they’re happy.” Who would guess the base path to happiness crosses a beauty salon floor?

Visit themittmender.com for more information.

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Public Art Primer

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Chris Wolfgang

One thing never in short supply in this city of ours is public art. Downtown Omaha in particular has a vast collection of pieces—some you’ve surely seen and some that are tucked away. Keep your eyes open this summer for these few pieces in particular and impress your friends with how much you know about public art downtown.

Pioneer Courage Park and Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park
14th & Capitol and all four corners of the 16th & Dodge intersection

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Both owned by First National Bank, these installations span the width of several blocks. Follow Blair Buswell’s and Edward Fraughton’s pioneers, covered wagons, oxen, horses, and mules through Pioneer Courage Park, watch as they scare off bison who run along 14th all the way to Kent Ullberg’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness at 16th where Canada geese (each weighing approximately 200 pounds) seem to fly around the intersection, through walls, buildings, even traffic light poles.

The Garden of the Zodiac
Old Market Passageway, 10th & Howard

On the second floor of the Old Market Passageway (itself a unique artistic and architectural element of Downtown Omaha) are several bronze heads mounted on stone bases. This Garden of the Zodiac was sculpted by Evas Aeppli and represents the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Aeppli also created the Fountain of Erinnyesdiac in the lower level of the Passageway across from the V. Mertz restaurant. These three abstract metal heads, which each spew water, represent the Furies: Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone, all vengeful demi-goddesses of Greek mythology.

Nebraska Centennial Glass Mosaic
The outside of the Woodman building, 18th & Douglas

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Tom Bartek completed this work in 1967. The mosaic scenes depict Native Americans, pioneers, and Omaha being settled. In 2012, at the age of 80, Bartek released Retrospective, a collection of his works, in three galleries. You can learn more about the mural’s creation at omahamuralproject.org.

Fertile Ground
Eastern wall of the Energy Systems, Inc. building, 13th & Webster

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If you’ve been in the North Downtown area since 2009, you’ve seen Fertile Ground. This 70-foot-tall mural spans 328 feet wide—the length of a city block. It is the largest piece of public art ever installed in Omaha. It’s also the largest mural in the nation to have a single financial backer, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, which funded the piece as a gift to the people of Nebraska and the city of Omaha.

The Omaha Mural Project: Fertile Ground was coordinated by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, which selected Meg Saligman as the artist. Saligman compiled Omaha’s story—past, present, future—in a unique back-to-front approach. Instead of a typical left-to-right treatment, the chronology pushes past events to the background and brings more recent events into the foreground. The painting took a year to complete—June 2008 to June 2009.

The Road to Omaha
TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, 1200 Mike Fahey St.

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You may have seen this piece recently, either in person or on television. This bronze sculpture by artist John Lajba is often a focal point during the NCAA Men’s College World Series every June. The sculpture of baseball players was given to the city by local organizing committee College World Series of Omaha, Inc. The Road to Omaha was completed in 1999 and made the move from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in 2011.

For more information about public art in Omaha, visit publicartomaha.org.

Storm Chasers’ Mighty Mascot

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Having a job that you love is the ideal. Luckily for Kevin Lake, he stumbled into his dream job five years ago at a job fair, and he’s never looked back.

The interview process wasn’t what one might refer to as typical. Lake had to audition by dressing up in costume and interacting with people along 13th Street from Rosenblatt Stadium all the way down to the zoo. Lake is a mascot for the Omaha Storm Chasers.20130506_bs_3725_web

Depending on the day and event, Lake has been known to play all three Omaha Storm Chasers’ mascots, including Stormy, Vortex, and Casey. No matter which mascot he plays, however, Lake has no trouble coming up with various antics to entertain the crowd, from initiating a mascot dance-off during a rain delay to leading fans in the latest dance craze from atop the bar in the Jim Beam Club. Another crowd favorite: “I try to do a flip in the Stormy costume on top of the dugout. He’s a little bigger guy, so the crowd enjoys watching that,” Lake shares. And while he doesn’t always visit a specific section, Lake makes a point of circulating the crowd and stepping into the suites during games.

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Lake says he especially enjoys Friday and Saturday nights at Werner Park (home to the Storm Chasers since 2011) because there are typically more fans in attendance to entertain. Additionally, Bark in the Park is an event where fans are invited to bring their furry friends to enjoy a game. “It’s fun watching a dog’s reaction [to me in costume]. You have to move in slowly and be cautious so you don’t get bit,” Lake says.

Lake doesn’t just dress up for games. He also wears the costumes to outside benefit appearances, at which he’s made some of his favorite memories. Being a mascot has given him opportunities to get up close and personal with some local celebrities including Warren Buffett, whose hand Lake got to shake at a game. “He may have all the money in the world, but he was nice enough to shake my hand and have a conversation with people,” Lake remembers.20130506_bs_3522_web

One of the greatest challenges of being a mascot is navigating in-costume, Lake says. The tunnel vision the costumes create has caused Lake to accidentally step on children or run into people because he’s unable to see side-to-side or up-and-down. Additionally, the heat can be nearly unbearable on summer days, especially with all of the physical activity that comes with the job. Still, the pros far outweigh the cons, and even physical activity in a heavy costume under the blazing-hot sun has its benefits, he says. “I gained 5-10 pounds in the off-season and got out of shape. It’s nice to get back into the routine of the season so I can shed the pounds,” Lake confesses.

The Mancusos

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

On a Monday afternoon in early March, Mike Mancuso steps out of the home office at CenturyLink Center Omaha and walks into the Great Hall of the arena. An exhibitor getting ready for the upcoming Triumph of Agriculture Expo sees Mike, one of the show’s managers, and immediately comes over to ask for help. Apparently, the space he has been given for his farm equipment display isn’t big enough. Could Mike come over and take a look? Mike puts an armful of papers and a can of pop on the floor, then disappears for a few minutes. When he returns, he picks up his papers and pop and continues to his original destination. Problem solved.

This is the life Mike and his two older brothers, Bob, Jr., and Joe, have willingly chosen. It is the life their father, Bob Mancuso, Sr., carved out for himself and the family he cherishes back in 1964, when his three sons were babies. The Mancuso family is the force behind Mid-America Expositions, Inc., producer of trade shows, expos, fairs, and festivals in the metro. For nearly 50 years, Mid-America has kept products rolling and people strolling through Omaha’s numerous indoor and outdoor venues with events like the Farm and Ag Expo, Omaha Home & Garden Expo, Taste of Omaha, and the Omaha Products Show for Business and Industry—events that have become long-standing traditions, drawing families from all over the Midwest.

Despite a diverse slate of productions, Mid-America adheres to a simple driving philosophy: “We bring business and people together,” states Bob, Jr. “The Ag Expo helps farm businesses, the Taste of Omaha helps restaurants…Our aim is to make businesses successful.”

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

From left: Bob, Jr., Bob, Sr., Mike, Dona, and Joe Mancuso.

It’s no coincidence that the ascent of Omaha on the national stage parallels the transformation of Bob, Sr., from an athlete and teacher to a business-savvy entrepreneur whose deep devotion, keen vision, and strong faith in the city he loves changed the way marketing is done around here.

“Our family is rooted in Omaha,” says Bob, Sr., proudly. “My father and mother were both born and raised here. The Mancusos seldom got out of Omaha to go to school.” Except for him.

A standout wrestler at Omaha Central, Bob, Sr., scored a full ride to Kansas State and majored in phys. ed. and biological science. His teaching and coaching career began in 1956 at the old Bellevue High School. Coach Mancuso’s impact was immediate and startling. He molded a group of teenagers from a small, Class B school into state wrestling champions his very first year—Bellevue’s first championship ever, in any sport. The wins kept piling up.

Bellevue also produced the love of his life. A pretty young waitress who worked in her parents’ café across the street from the high school caught Bob, Sr.’s eye early on. In 1958, Dona Marie Hansen and Robert Mancuso were united in marriage.

Meanwhile, the coach’s impressive record at Bellevue caught the attention of a lot of eyes in Lincoln. In 1961, Bob, Sr., became head wrestling coach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where his squads did well but were dwarfed by the large shadow cast by the football program.

“I was making $4,000 a year. My family didn’t need much to live on. But I kept thinking about my future and wondering, ‘Am I going to sit on a stool the rest of my life?’”

The answer came from Bob, Sr.’s older brother, the late Charles Mancuso, who at the time ran Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, Rosenblatt Stadium, and the Orpheum Theater. “Charlie told me I should quit the coaching business. He wanted more activities at the Civic, and he wanted me to help him.”

 “We bring business and people together…Our aim is to make businesses successful.” – Bob Mancuso, Jr.

After talking it over with his wife, Bob, Sr., joined with former AkSarBen General Manager Jake Isaacson and talent agency head Don Romeo to form Mid-America Expositions. The Mancuso magic struck again. “Our first event was Queen For A Day, with host Jack Bailey,” Bob, Sr., remembers as if it were yesterday. “The show broadcast live from Omaha for a week. Women stood in line around the auditorium to get in.”

Over 50,000 women swarmed the Civic during that week in late September of 1964, not only to see one of early TV’s iconic shows with its classic “applause meter” that determined the winner, but to also visit the Food Festival and Housewives Fair that accompanied it. Omaha had never seen a production on this scale before. “[Changing careers] was a good move for me,” says the elder Mancuso, who will turn 80 in September. “The future was wide open for aggressive people in the events market.”

Today, Mid-America Expositions produces between 12 and 15 shows a year, many at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, and they are a family affair. Each son joined their father one by one after pursuing their own corporate careers. Mike came aboard in 1988, followed by Bob, Jr., in 2005, and Joe in 2007. The love and respect each son carries for their father is evident in everything they say and do. They get emotional when trying to put into words what his legacy means to them.

“Dad has been a great example to me,” says Joe. “I have pretty much modeled everything I’ve ever wanted to do off of him—the way he has handled his life and lived his life.”

All three sons are fine athletes like their father and have been instrumental in adding the Outland Trophy Award Dinner, the Health, Wellness, and Fitness Expo, and the Corporate Cycling Challenge to the roster of events.

Next on the agenda: the 16th Annual Taste of Omaha May 31-June 2 at the riverfront, followed by the Nebraska Balloon & Wine Festival August 9-10.

As for the future, “We want to continue making our events stronger and greater,” says Mike. “We want to keep them good for the city of Omaha and the people of Omaha.”

Blatt Beer & Table

August 17, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With a sprawling beer list and a food menu designed to complement the brews, it’s easy for pub grub fans and craft beer connoisseurs to hit a home run at Blatt Beer & Table.

Named after Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium, the restaurant and bar offers a wide variety of craft beers from microbreweries around the world. The selection includes 24 draft beers, as well as numerous bottled and canned beer.

The menu features flavors from across the globe: German bratwurst and spaetzle; American classics, such as chicken and waffles and mac ‘n’ cheese; an Indian-spiced char-grilled chicken sandwich with mango chutney; the popular Mexican street-food snack chicharones (fried pork skins dusted with chili powder); and Irish brownies made with a Guinness batter.

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Blatt is among the newest additions to North Downtown (NoDo)’s dining scene. Located directly south of TD Ameritrade Park, it opened in June, just in time for the College World Series.

When the CWS ended, a new crowd stepped up to plate. Blatt attracts a diverse group that includes residents of neighboring apartment buildings, downtown office workers, Creighton University students and staff, Film Streams moviegoers, and those attending concerts and other events at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

“It’s a great place to hang out,” says Kailin Sneller, Blatt Beer & Table’s general manager. “People have really started to catch on to us.”

The diverse crowd, laid-back atmosphere, and relaxed vibe fit in well with the eclectic and supportive businesses that comprise NoDo, says Sneller, adding that Blatt differs from other bars and restaurants in the area because it has an extensive and ever-changing beer selection, craft cocktail menu, and food that pairs with beer.

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Another part of its appeal is the rooftop patio, which Sneller said is a great spot to relax and take in the view, weather permitting. “You can see all of downtown,” she says. “It’s really cool.”

Blatt’s interior features a blend of styles, from rustic to industrial. The space gets a vintage feel from tin ceiling tiles repurposed to create part of the bar. Wood-topped tables and exposed brick walls provide a warm, classic flair. Modern elements include concrete floors, sleek metal stools, and garage-style doors that open in nicer weather.

Custom labels adorn bottles of ketchup, mustard, and malt vinegar. Food arrives on tin pie plates, and some items are tucked inside brown paper bags for a stylish and fun presentation.

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Blatt offers Zesto ice cream cones, shakes, and other frozen treats seasonally inside the restaurant and at a walk-up window on the south side of the Blatt. Both are operated by Flagship Restaurant Group, which also runs Blue Sushi and Roja locations in Omaha.

Tony Gentile, Flagship’s corporate executive chef, created Blatt’s menu with Mikey Hill, Blatt’s executive chef. Gentile said the menu showcases simple, unfussy, and delicious bar food that goes well with a wide range of beers. Blatt’s staff are happy to suggest food and beer pairings.

Blatt Beer & Table, 610 N. 12th St., is open daily at 11am. For more information, visit blattbeer.com or call 402-718-8822.