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View from the 'ville
Thursday, June 14, 2007

By Al Myatt

Assignment: Omaha dry run from afar

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Someday, hopefully, a bus carrying the East Carolina baseball team will arrive at 1202 Bert Murphy Avenue in Omaha, Nebraska.

That's the street address of Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, a facility named after a former Omaha mayor in 1964. Rosenblatt had an extensive baseball background and was instrumental in the stadium's construction. He was stricken with Parkinson's disease and died in 1979.

The structure, originally called Omaha Municipal Stadium when it was built in 1948, has been the site of Division I college baseball's national championship since 1950.

The 2007 College World Series starts Friday on a television near you or live at Rosenblatt Stadium, depending on your circumstances.

The CWS is rare drama that crowns an NCAA champion. It's a showcase for future major league stars. It's the promised land for many baseball programs, East Carolina's among them.

The Pirates finished another strong season in 2007 but came up short of making the trip to Omaha. When ECU does make it, getting there will seem that much more rewarding because of the years of striving and disappointment that have preceded it.

You can bet the Pirates will have the mother of all dog piles when they finally do win a super regional. Former ECU coach Keith LeClair will be beaming from ear to ear on a heavenly field of dreams.

When ECU punches its ticket to Omaha, it will be like Susan Lucci of All My Children soap opera fame when she finally won an Emmy, or Phil Mickelson ending years of frustration in the major tournaments with a victory in the Masters, or Sir Edmund Hillary when he found a way to beat Mother Nature and ascended the steep summit of Mount Everest.

The CWS is like the Final Four in basketball or a BCS bowl in football. Just getting there is an experience worthy of great appreciation in itself.

Even though the Pirates haven't gotten there yet, the CWS can still be enjoyed vicariously by the legion of ECU baseball fans. Some day the Pirates may have their opportunity to bask among college baseball's ultra elite as well.

There are some interesting story lines commanding attention as we near the first pitch. Rice is there from good old Conference USA, seeking another crown under the grandfatherly supervision of coach Wayne Graham. The Owls kick off the first round on Friday against upstart Louisville at 2 p.m.

North Carolina is back for a shot at redemption after giving away the championship to Oregon State in 2006. The Tar Heels play Mississippi State at 7 p.n. on Friday. The Bulldogs have been to the CWS six times under coach Ron Polk but have never taken home the grand prize.

Cal Irvine opens CWS play on Saturday at 2 p.m. against Arizona State.

The defending champion Beavers are back, too, coming off the bubble just to make the NCAA field late in the season. They open against Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

Oregon State was a No. 3 seed after finishing sixth in the Pac 10 but came out of the losers' bracket in the Charlottesville regional to beat Rutgers and then Virginia twice. The last repeat winner in the CWS was LSU with championships in 1996 and 1997.

Southern Cal has the longest period of domination in Omaha, winning five straight titles between 1970 and 1974. Oregon State is the only team among this year's field to be in Omaha for a third straight season.

UNC-Chapel Hill, Cal State Fullerton, Rice and Arizona State were all on hand a year ago. The Sun Devils are tops among the 2007 CWS field in terms of previous titles with five.

Cal State Fullerton, from whom the Pirates swept three games in Greenville by a combined margin of 20-6, is in Omaha, too. If the Titans win it all, the Pirates and their supporters can strut proudly in the knowledge that they beat the CWS champions. The Titans have taken all the marbles in Omaha four times.

Like ECU would hope to be in 2008, Cal Irvine and Louisville are in the CWS for the first time. Neither team even had an NCAA postseason win prior to this season.

Cal Irvine won as the No. 2 seed in the Round Rock, TX, regional to host Texas. The Anteaters — perhaps the most unique nickname in this or any season — then traveled to Wichita, KA, where they spoiled the fun at the super regional for the host Shockers — another unique nickname — of Wichita State.

Although play doesn't begin until Friday, there will be plenty going on today. Take note, ECU fans, so you will be better informed in the event you have the chance to take it in personally with the Pirates.

There will be team practices and autograph sessions today. Following each team's respective workout on the Rosenblatt playing surface from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they will be on the stadium concourse for 30 minutes to sign "John Hancocks" for their adoring public.

The parking lots adjacent to Rosenblatt Stadium will be the site of a fan fest from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today, according to an NCAA release. Country music artist Rodney Atkins will perform this evening from 7:30 to 8:30 in the stadium's southeast parking lot.

Opening ceremonies for the CWS are at 9 p.m. tonight with no admission charged. The teams will be introduced and Navy parachutists will jump from 12,500 feet into the stadium.

Fireworks will cap the evening.

Today is flag day. Even though the occasion honors "Old Glory," ECU fans should display their Pirate flags, too, in anticipation of that day when they can fly them in a convoy en route to Omaha.

Until that day gets here, the CWS is still an event that can be enjoyed from afar.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

06/14/2007 01:29:40 AM


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