OMAHA, Neb. -- Much of the leadup to the 64th College World Series has been focused on Rosenblatt Stadium -- the site of the event since 1950 -- which will be put out to pasture when a new downtown stadium opens in 2011.
Romanticizing over Rosenblatt will be a constant theme over the next two weeks, but there are eight teams in town with a more pressing matter on their minds: winning a national championship.
Skinny: Distractions, what distractions? Veteran ASU coach Pat Murphy was forced out before the season for NCAA indiscretions. All the Sun Devils did was come out and win their first 24 games under interim coach Tim Esmay, who ditched the interim tag two weeks ago. ASU's team ERA is less than half that of the opposition (3.14-7.74). Coupled with an offense that outscored the opposition more than two-to-one (513-231) it's easy to see why the Sun Devils earned the No. 1 national seed.
One to watch: Ace RHP Seth Blair (12-0, 3.35 ERA, 104 K/24 BB in 102 IP) has been unbeatable. The Colorado Rockies were impressed enough to use a supplemental first-round draft pick on him two weeks ago. He has progressed each of his three years with the Sun Devils, convincing the Cardinals with a fastball that touches 97 mph and sits at 92-94.
How they got here: Swept three games in double-elimination Regionals, beating Hawaii in final; Swept Arkansas in best-of-three Super Regionals.
CWS history: The Sun Devils have won five national championships (in 1965, 1967, 1969, 1977 and 1981), more than anyone but USC (12), Texas (6) or LSU (6). This is their 22nd appearance. ASU is the only team from the 2009 field to make it back this year.
Well-known alums:Barry Bonds and Reggie Jackson.
Skinny: A strong regular season almost went out the window when Clemson was quickly eliminated in the ACC Tournament. The biggest challenge is getting comfortable on the road, where the Tigers are just a .500 team (14-14). They will have to generate enough offense to overcome a pitching staff that is pedestrian (4.72 team ERA with .280 opponents' batting average) in comparison with many of the other teams here. LHP Casey Harman (7-3, 3.73 ERA) is the staff ace.
One to watch: OF Kyle Parker (.353, 20 HR, 64 RBIs), a first-round draft pick by Colorado, reached his goal of a 20-20 season. He hit 20 homers for the Tigers baseball team and threw 20 touchdown passes as quarterback of the school's football team. He was only a redshirt freshman in football, so he can negotiate from an unusually strong position with the Rockies. If he signs, maybe Parker can rub elbows with another two-sport star who chose football. John Elway played minor league baseball for the Yankees before embarking on a Hall of Fame career with the Denver Broncos.
How they got here: Beat host Auburn twice in Regional final to advance; Came back to beat Alabama 2-games-to-1 in Super Regionals after losing the first game.
CWS history: This is the 12th appearance for the Tigers, who last made it here in 2006. They have finished as high as third twice (in 1996 and 2002).
Well-known alum:Jimmy Key.
Skinny: The Gators are unbeatable (41-0) if they get to the sixth inning with a lead. Give the credit to a strong bullpen headed by closer LHP Kevin Chapman (3-0, 11 saves, 1.48 ERA, 43 K/7 BB in 42.2 IP). It helps having one of the nation's best defenses. Florida is tops in the SEC, and seventh nationally, with a .978 fielding percentage. The lineup includes three players with double-digit home runs totals, led by freshman 3B Austin Maddox with 17.
One to watch: OF Tyler Thompson (.298, 6 HR, 28 RBIs) had three homers in 91 career games, before he became the eighth player in school history to hit three homers in one game in the Regionals against Florida Atlantic. Thompson added another homer in the Super Regionals against Miami. His father, Robby, played 11 years in the major leagues as a middle infielder for the San Francisco Giants.
How they got here: Swept through Regionals, beating Florida International in the final; Swept Miami in the Super Regionals.
CWS history: The Gators, who finished as the runnerup to Texas in 2005 in the school's most recent appearance, are making their fifth trip to Omaha.
Well-known alum:David Eckstein.
Skinny: Outscoring the opposition has been essential to Florida State's success because after LHP Sean Gilmartin (12-3, 3.49 ERA, 83 K/37 BB in 98 IP) the Seminoles have been fairly average on the mound as CWS teams go. The team ERA is 4.58, which is nothing to write home about. Fortunately, opponents were battered for an 8.26 ERA. OF Tyler Holt (.401) is tops among a group batting a collective .321.
One to watch: RHP/OF Mike McGee (.328, 15 HR, 68 RBI/4-0, 12 saves, 1.37 ERA, 33 K/16 BB in 26.1 IP) leads the team in home runs, including a walk-off job in the ninth to beat Vanderbilt 9-8 in the opening game of the Super Regionals. The Seminoles call him in from the outfield to close out games. Arizona used its pick in the 41st round of the draft on him as a pitcher, but he can always try hitting if things don't work out on the mound.
How they got here: Swept three games in Regionals, beating Oregon in the final; Defeated Vanderbilt, winning the first and third games in the Super Regionals.
CWS history: This is the Seminoles' 20th appearance, by far the most without winning a championship (the next two schools on the list -- Clemson and South Carolina -- are joining FSU in Omaha this week). They finished as the runnerup in 1970, 1986 and 1999, the first year of the current 64-team format.
Well-known alum:Deion Sanders.
Skinny: Losing nine players to the draft a year ago explains why Oklahoma fields a team that starts one freshman, six sophomores and two juniors. Despite the youth, the Sooners got off to a fast start, winning 20 of their first 22 games. It helps to have an offense averaging nearly eight runs a game. The pitching staff, led by RHP Bobby Shore (10-4, 3.86 ERA, 77 K/31 BB in 91 IP), is allowing half that thanks to a sturdy bullpen that gets the credit for a 3.79 team ERA.
One to watch: 3B Garrett Buechele (.371, 16 HR, 64 RBIs) leads the team in most offensive categories. His father, Steve, played 11 years in the major leagues, as a third baseman for the Cubs, Pirates and Rangers, who selected Garrett in the 18th round of this year's draft.
How they got here: Swept three games in Regionals, beating North Carolina in final; Came back to beat Virginia in Super Regionals after losing the first game.
CWS history: The Sooners are the only team here besides ASU which has claimed a national title, winning in 1951 and 1994. This is the school's 10th appearance but first since 1995.
Well-known alum:Russ Ortiz.
Skinny: As usual, the South Carolina bats are potent -- totaling 90 home runs -- but the offense wasn't as productive overall as previous clubs that reached Omaha. RHP Blake Cooper (12-1, 2.81 ERA, 105 K/35 BB in 118.1 IP) has been about as successful as anyone on the mound this season, but the Gamecocks have mixed and matched behind him. The bullpen accounted for 18 of the team's wins. The key to going deep in the tournament will be the starters keeping things from getting out of hand.
One to watch: RHP Matt Price (3-1, 10 saves, 2.54 ERA, 68 K/18 BB in 46 IP) had to redshirt last year after he fractured his right wrist against The Citadel, but he's bounced back this year to become the most memorable freshman closer since Huston Street was helping Texas win the national championship in 2002.
How they got here: Swept Regionals, beating Virginia Tech in final; Swept Coastal Carolina in the Super Regionals.
CWS history: This is the school's ninth appearance but first since 2004. Like Florida State, the Gamecocks have been bridesmaids, finishing third three times (in 1975, 1977 and 2002).
Well-known alum:Mookie Wilson.
Skinny: Being the perennial power in the Mountain West Conference enabled TCU to pile up automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament, but it did nothing to prepare the Horned Frogs for postseason play. The breakthrough finally came this season behind the outstanding weekend rotation of LHP Matt Purke (14-0, 3.23 ERA, 133 K/28 BB in 103 IP), Kyle Winkler (12-1, 2.84, 90/33 in 114) and Steven Maxwell (11-2, 2.41, 89/34 in 100.2). The Frogs are hoping that will keep them from seeming too wide-eyed in a place where over the past 20 years newcomers have gone 0-2 as often as not (five of 10 first-timers sine 1990 have gone home winless).
One to watch: C Bryan Holaday (.350, 13 HR, 48 RBIs) has gained plenty of attention for his performance at the plate and his play behind it. His defense was ahead of his offense -- he threw out half the baserunners who tried to steal on him -- until he broke out this season. The Detroit Tigers were impressed enough to use their sixth round pick on him in the draft.
How they got here: Swept three games in Regionals, beating Baylor in final; Defeated No. 2 national seed Texas in Super Regionals, winning first and third games.
CWS history: First appearance.
Well-known alum:Lance Broadway.
Skinny: Like Pac-10 rival Arizona State, UCLA got off to a tremendous start this season, winning its first 22 games. In the tournament, the Bruins were one out from seeing their dreams dashed by nemesis Cal State-Fullerton before a dramatic two-run homer by 2B Tyler Rahmatulla helped force Game 3 in the Super Regionals. In a cruel twist, Rahmatulla injured his wrist the following night in the postgame celebration and will miss the CWS.
One to watch: LHP Rob Rasmussen (11-2, 2.73 ERA, 117 K/28 BB in 99 IP), a second-round draft pick by the Florida Marlins, heads an outstanding starting rotation. His fastball sits in the 91-93 range, but what scouts like just as much is his toughness. Improved himself greatly by going to college, moving up 25 rounds from where the Dodgers drafted him in the 2007 draft.
How they got here: Swept three games in Regionals, beating UC-Irvine in final; Came back to beat Cal State-Fullerton in Super Regionals after losing first game.
CWS history: This is the Bruins' third trip to Omaha, but they're still looking for their first victory after going 0-2 in both 1969 and 1997.
Well-known alum:Jackie Robinson.