Growing up in and around Omaha, going to the College World Series in the summer is an essential rite of passage, whether you particularly enjoy baseball or not. Most people go when it works with vacation or activity schedules and missing a series isn’t that big of a deal. For me, however, missing the College World Series would be like getting my arm cut off or having my house burn down—a major catastrophe.
Though friends and acquaintances have a hard time believing it, I have never missed a year of the CWS in my life. I’ve celebrated 25 birthdays and attended at least one game at 25 straight College World Series. While driving on 13th Street and hanging out around Rosenblatt Stadium and TD Ameritrade Park, I’ve seen license plates from all 50 states, including Hawaii, the occupants taking in one of the best events in Omaha.
Though I have seen the stadium and the style of the game change, the most important aspects of the CWS have stayed the same. I love baseball, but the best parts often happen away from the field: meeting people from all over the country (and telling them how awesome Omaha is); tailgating in the parking lot or trying a new dish in the stadium; buying a new t-shirt every year even though the previous years’ fill up one whole drawer; and getting beads from the Bead Man.
At one game, I was talking to a man from La Vista while we both stood eating before first pitch. He asked me if certain teams, years, or plays stood out the most in my memory, and as I thought about it, I realized that I couldn’t pick out one specific baseball moment. They have all been good. Instead, my favorite memories prominently featured my family and the time I spent with them. For me, the CWS is truly a family affair.
Growing up, and still to this day, there have always been several sets of CWS season tickets in my family. I had my pick of games and seats, and depending on who I went to the game with, there were certain traditions and protocols that would be followed. Those stand out in my mind above all else.
Grandpa and Grandma Pettit bought season tickets and a parking pass when they moved to the area from Peoria, Illinois, when I was a toddler. Every year, they would get up and head to the stadium at 4 a.m. in order to park in the same parking spot—every day. It was in the row of spots along 10th Street across from the zoo, and every year Grandpa would park the minivan under the same tree.
They would bring their little portable gas grill, a cast iron skillet, and two coolers full of food and drinks (because one would never be enough for our family). Grandma would cook up breakfast for whoever wanted it, and the same went for lunch and dinner. We’d eat at the old card table set up under the tree, sitting in lawn chairs and on coolers and blankets. Most of the family would go into the game, but if it was too hot Grandpa and Grandma would just sit in the shade and enjoy the company of other fans.
My dad and I go to at least one CWS game together every year, usually on Father’s Day. He introduced me to some of the best people and food, the result of being around the the series for 50 consecutive years. Some years we would do our own tailgating, cooking burgers and hot dogs on the old charcoal grill and then having dessert inside the stadium. Other years, we’d go eat with Mark, Larry, and the rest of the Tailgators crew at the curve of the Rosenblatt parking lot. Once, we went to King Kong, where I thought I could handle a regular King Kong burger; I couldn’t. No matter what or where we ate, the meal was secondary to the time spent together as a family.
Dad has never been shy about letting me use the tickets to go with friends, likely because he himself has 50 years worth of memories of attending the CWS with friends and family. Each year we walk through all the souvenir tents, looking for the perfect t-shirt, and it becomes part of my birthday present. Above all, my favorite memories are just sitting together in the stands or underneath a tent in the parking lot and enjoying the best of college baseball.
The College World Series is more than just a series of great baseball games, and stepping into that atmosphere each year feels just like coming home.