Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Take Me Out to the Tailgate

It's fun to tailgate at the College World Series in Omaha.  The Omaha World-Herald published an article about the tradition:


Favorite teams not in CWS; fans still come



Doug Guidry is loading up an 8-foot trailer with crawfish, shrimp and chicken sausage and driving 17 hours from Louisiana to Omaha for the College World Series.
The funny thing is, his favorite baseball team — the Louisiana State Tigers — didn't make it to the series this year. But that couldn't stop the die-hard baseball fan and his six buddies from making the trip. Turns out, they're pretty big Omaha fans, too.
After 11 years of Cajun-style tailgating and baseball, the series is these guys' annual vacation.


“We love college baseball, and we've met a lot of people in Omaha who are now like family to us,” said Guidry, 50, a season-ticket holder who lives outside Lafayette, La., and was set to leave home at 3 a.m. Thursday. “And we go to every single game.”
Omaha tourism officials and the NCAA are expecting big numbers again this year even though teams that typically bring a large fan base — LSU and Texas top that list — aren't in the series this time around.
The CWS, which runs Friday through June 25 or 26, has drawn nearly 8 million spectators since it moved to Omaha in 1950.
They say the series will likely host a lot of fans like Guidry — people who love the whole CWS experience regardless of who is playing. It's grown into such a national event that, at least for some baseball fans, it doesn't matter who's at bat.
And, they say the teams that will be here — Stony Brook, UCLA, Arizona, Florida State, Kent State, Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida — might just bring a lot of supporters with them as well.
“People are kind of assuming that Stony Brook and Kent State aren't bringing anybody,” said NCAA Media Coordinator J.D. Hamilton. “There's nothing clear about that. Arkansas just might bring enough people with them to make up for LSU and Texas.”
Deb Ward, director of public relations and marketing for the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, said baseball fans “like the CWS and get into it. You have people who pick their teams based on a jersey. You never know how many fans are going to come from each school.”
There are still hotel rooms available downtown — at least for now, said Susan Madsen, president of the Metropolitan Hospitality Association. All eight teams are staying downtown, whereas in the past, at least one stayed in west Omaha.
The Hilton Omaha and the Doubletree Hotel are each hosting two teams for the first time. Madsen, who is general manager of the Embassy Suites hotel in the Old Market, said it's hosting Stony Brook.
Hilton General Manager Robert Watson said Arizona and South Carolina players are planning to stay there. This year is the first that the Hilton's 150-room expansion has been open during the series, and the additional space allowed the hotel to welcome two teams instead of one.
“I don't know if we're going to sell out, but I think we'll come very close,” Watson said.
Across the Missouri River, Ameristar Casino Hotel is sold out through the whole series. The hotel shuttles its guests back and forth to the games.
“We have a lot of fans book far ahead,” said Ameristar spokeswoman Christie Scott. “It's such an exciting time.”
In addition to CWS fans filling hotels, hundreds of youth baseball players and their families are in town for a baseball tournament that coincides with the series.
CWS ticket sales won't be a problem. Most reserved seats are sold well in advance on a season-ticket basis. A few are held back for sale on game day but usually go quickly. Hamilton, of the NCAA, said each competing team gets 700 tickets. They turn in whatever is left, and those tickets are sold at the box office.
“Usually, every school gives back about half of them, but sometimes four or five teams run out,” he said.
For the past couple of days, Rich Tokheim, owner of the Dugout, has been trying to figure out how many hats and T-shirts to have on hand during the series. The shop, across from TD Ameritrade Park, bases its supply of team apparel on how many fans Tokheim thinks will travel to Omaha and buy stuff to wear to the games. This year, he wasn't sure.
Tokheim started out ordering a lot of Arkansas and South Carolina merchandise. Then the buzz around Stony Brook convinced him to get more of that team's apparel.
“Our Stony Brook sales could be bigger than LSU, even bigger than we thought,” he said. “We've upped our orders the last couple of days.”
Hamilton and Ward say they're expecting Stony Brook to be a fan favorite, because Omahans tend to love Cinderella stories. Just ask Cal-Irvine or Louisiana-Lafayette from years past.
Jeff Hyde, a Texas and LSU fan who lives in Dallas, said that's one thing he likes about the CWS: “Omaha always roots for the underdog.”
Hyde, 52, is part of Guidry's group. He's driving 10 hours from Dallas to Omaha. The guys — their wives stay home — plan to golf in the morning and cook Cajun food in the afternoon before going to the games. They're tailgating near the Creighton soccer field, for those of you craving some beer and jambalaya.
“We started out with a little barbecue pit and over the years it's turned into a huge party,” Hyde said. “It's unbelievable. They city and the people just opened their arms to us.”