The day South Carolina clinched its second straight College World Series championship last year, the Omaha Storm Chasers played a day game. Combined attendance at the two venues reached almost 34,000. That surpassed attendance numbers in nine cities during a full slate of games in Major League Baseball. But as good as it sounds for Omaha as a baseball mecca, the Storm Chasers are struggling to grab some attention.
This part you already know: Baseball is a big deal in Omaha this time of year. Granted, a few players will make it to the big leagues from the College World Series. But let’s be honest: The overall caliber of talent in the College World Series equates to low level minor league ball. That’s according to Art Stewart from the Kansas City Royals front office who has been scouting ballplayers for almost 60 years.
"It certainly measures up to a short season, A League like an Appalachian League or Pioneer League. These are the leagues that are just starting," said Stewart. "College players that we’ve just signed now from the recent draft will be going out to Burlington in the Appalachian League or Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League."
For that talent level an average of almost 23,000 fans still turned out for 14 sessions at last year’s College World Series. According to Dennis Poppe of the NCAA, that mixture of talent is what makes the College World Series special.
"I think what really makes the College World Series is that kid that probably will never play another baseball game after this series," said Poppe. "He doesn't know it. He's playing like it's his last baseball game and you just see some great plays, then you're going to some play where you go, 'What was that kid thinking?'"
Across town at Werner Park are ballplayers who are one step away from the major leagues. Regardless of the level of talent, Omaha Storm Chasers general manager Martie Cordaro recognizes it’s a tough draw at home up against the College World Series. Slightly more than 4,000 showed up for Tuesday night’s game at the same time Florida State squared off against UCLA at TD Ameritrade Park.
"We probably would have had a better walk-up," said Cordaro. "It was a sweltering night."
The elimination game between the Seminoles and the Bruins downtown drew more than 23,000. Cordaro said the Storm Chasers are still learning how to deal with home games conflicting with the College World Series.
"The College World Series is about the event, which is the game, the settling of a national championship on the field through baseball, which is a great thing from a collegiate and amateur standpoint," said Cordaro. "So, for us, we have to be creative. We have 72 games."
And they have a new owner. Gary Green, a New York native, formally introduced himself Tuesday as the new CEO of the Storm Chasers. Green first became acquainted with Omaha from watching the College World Series on ESPN. Then as the prospect of buying the Storm Chasers grew near, Green checked out the Storm Chasers previous home.
"When I got to visit, I guess, two months ago, I got to walk through Rosenblatt (Stadium). I got it right away--Wrigley (Field) and Fenway (Park) combine," said Green.
This week Green also sampled the College World Series.
"It's a great ballpark and it's used for ten days out of the year, which still blows my mind. It's a different experience, but a great experience," he said.
For the second time in three days on Thursday, baseball will be played at the same time on Omaha’s two biggest diamonds. With Wednesday night’s postponement, three games were set for TD Ameritrade Park. At Werner Park in Sarpy County Thursday night, the Storm Chasers were scheduled to continue their series against Memphis.
As much as baseball drives business in Omaha this week, the Storm Chasers know they’re riding in the back seat for another day.