I spent the entire weekend at the College World Series, though I didn't attend one game. Instead, I went to places around the ballpark. Bars, restaurants, tailgates, beer gardens, patios, food trucks.
Friends and I shared a pizza with strangers from Texas, toured a tiny school bus converted into a tailgate machine, got our photos taken by an artist on Howard Street, watched throngs of drunken patio revelers go wild for a drumline made up of young percussionists who themselves are not old enough to drink, talked to tons of strangers, crammed lots of people-watching into just a couple of hours, and one night escaped north downtown for drinks in the Old Market.
I also meant to get a ride on a pedicab — basically an oversized tricycle with a seat for two passengers — but I never got around to it. Oh, well.
It was undeniably a good time, even for a non-sports fan like me. It was interesting to see north downtown convert into something completely different than it normally is — I can't imagine running into a high school friend's parents at the Slowdown on a regular Friday night. But it happened last weekend, and they told me that the bar that I know best as a music venue has been their favorite spot the past two years.
I got my first taste of outside-the-stadium CWS madness Friday afternoon on the rooftop patio of Blatt Beer & Table. At the Blatt, which that afternoon was busy but not packed (later in the weekend, a line would stretch down the block), a friend and I discussed the sheer, floor-grazing skirts some women in our vicinity were wearing (floor-length seems impractical for a sporting event, but I guess if you're wanting to stand out from the crowd, wearing something transparent during an event that draws thousands of visitors is a good bet).
But the coolest thing was trying to see what was going on inside the stadium from our rooftop seats. You can't, but you can see the reaction of the crowd, which is pretty cool.
Troy Ackerman was among those straining for a glimpse of the stadium from the Blatt rooftop.“I just wanted to see it,” he said.
Ackerman, 40, a teacher at Papillion-La Vista South High School, was still a bit skeptical about the move from Rosenblatt on South 13th Street to TD Ameritrade Park in north downtown (as was every person from Omaha that I talked to over the weekend). But he said he was getting used to it and even coming to like some of the new venues he'd visited, the Blatt included.
“It's not just the experience in the stadium, it's the experience outside,” said Joey Loth, 49, who spent much of Saturday night camped out with some girlfriends at a prime people-watching table on the Goodnights patio. Loth is a huge sports fan and some games, she cares about deeply. But some she doesn't, she said, and it's fun to go to a bar or restaurant, catch up with friends and watch the game while watching the crowd.
Kristy Pelan, 27, the high school friend whose parents I ran into at Slowdown, said that in the important ways, the CWS — and the nightlife outside — felt the same as it always had.
“You can't change the people,” she said. “It's still the same College World Series crowd.”