OMAHA – Ryan Gaines was chatting with left fielder Kendall Pettis about Oklahoma’s history at the College World Series when it became apparent that some of that history had been lost.
“He didn’t know there was another stadium,” Gaines said. “He just thought Rosenblatt was the change of name from one stadium to another, like it did this year. So I was just blown away that he didn’t know there was this other stadium where the College World Series took place for like 60 years.”
Gaines is OU’s director of baseball operations. He arrived at OU as a freshman from Harrah in 1991, worked closely with the program as a student and joined the staff full time in 2005. He was an undergrad during the Larry Cochell-era heyday of three Omaha visits in four years and has been the operations guy for the last three head coaches.
Oklahoma players at Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010.
The final season of Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010.
Fans interact with Oklahoma players at Rosenblatt Stadium before the 2010 CWS.
The current Rosenblatt experience.
Gaines knew that Pettis and others on the current OU roster had been to Omaha before – Pettis showed him a selfie at Charles Schwab Field from when he was 12 years old – so he got curious and asked several other players: Did you know there was a completely different baseball stadium? That “old Rosenblatt” hosted the CWS from 1950-2010? That it was located three miles away on the south edge of downtown and now includes a whiffle ball field, the big, arching "ROSENBLATT" sign from atop the scoreboard, those famous tri-color seats and lots of other memorabilia?
“They said, ‘No, I had no idea,’ ” Gaines told AllSooners on Thursday. “A guy like John Spikerman was 6 years old when Rosenblatt closed.”
Spikerman now plays right field for the Sooners. That disconnect, Gaines said, was too great to ignore.
So Tuesday, during an off day after beating Notre Dame on Sunday night, Gaines presented an idea to head coach Skip Johnson.
“He goes, ‘Man, I got a good idea,’ ” Johnson said. “I asked him, ‘What's that?’ He said, ‘Let's go over to Rosenblatt.’ I said, ‘That’s cool. Let's go over there and show those guys where this place has been, what the College World Series is about, where the Oklahoma Sooners won the last national championship in 1994.’ ”
The stadium itself, of course, is long since demolished. But the city of Omaha, recognizing that much of its identity stems from the greatness of college baseball, preserved the site with a cool if appropriately understated memorial. Most long-time CWS fans who still attend the games regularly make a pilgrimage to the site. It’s a shrine.
So taking the current Sooner squad there was an opportunity for Gaines to bridge the gap between contemporary players whose bubble is small and those who literally laid the foundations upon which college baseball is built.
“Coming back (from practice) towards the hotel, I thought it might be a nice surprise for the guys to see where the two teams that won a national championship from Oklahoma played,” Gaines said.
“Kids hear stories about the ball that Damon Minor hit into the zoo. Just different things that they’re totally clueless about. Kendall Pettis has been to Omaha before. … He just didn’t know. I just kind of thought, you know, good history lesson, good opportunity to connect the teams that had been to Omaha. You got 10 teams that had been to Omaha from OU and these guys didn’t even really know the stadium existed. That was really the main reason behind it.”
“It was really big,” Johnson said.
David Sandlin was the winning pitcher in Wednesday’s 5-1 victory over Texas A&M. He said the Sooners absolutely embraced the detour.
“As Coach Johnson said to us, it's a part of us,” Sandlin said. “The history and everybody that's played at the University of Oklahoma before us is just as important as the team we have now. They laid the groundwork for us, and we just need to keep going.”
OU won its bracket this week by mowing through the competition three times. Now the Sooners need to win twice against Ole Miss to seize the program’s third national championship.
If it happens, there will be a thread of Rosenblatt DNA in the Sooners’ trophy thanks to Gaines’ impromptu sightseeing tour.
Young players these days “get bored pretty easily with stuff,” Gaines said. “Like, if it’s not something that is a wow factor to them, they’re not very impressed and they’re ready to go pretty quick.”
That didn’t happen with the Rosenblatt tour, he said.
“I saw a lot of guys walking around, taking stuff in,” Gaines said.
OU reliever Braden Carmichael’s dad played at Rosenblatt and was there Tuesday. Sooner director of player development Britt Bonneau was on the Sooners’ CWS team in 1992. Gaines was a student trainer for Cochell’s squads that went to Omaha in ‘92, ‘93 and ‘95.
“Britt actually recreated a moment of him scoring a run against Wichita State here,” Gaines said. “Players were walking around, looking and reading different stuff and asking questions. When it was time to leave, heck, we almost had to lead ‘em because they wouldn’t get on the bus. So I thought that was kind of cool that they really enjoyed the opportunity to spend 20-30 minutes.”
Beyond just past OU players that competed at Rosenblatt, the OU coaching staff is personally invested in Omaha’s heritage. Assistant coach Clay Van Hook was a player on Augie Garrido’s 2005 national championship squad at Texas. During his 10 years on Garrido’s UT staff, Johnson went to Omaha three times, two at Rosenblatt. The third one helped christen The Schwab in 2011.
So when Gaines presented the idea, Johnson felt compelled to help educate this year’s Oklahoma roster.
“That’s why I have the best baseball operations guy in baseball, Ryan Gaines,” Johnson said. “Just explained to them … this is what college baseball is about.
“It’s a great place.”