Rabalais: Nothing like Omaha for a dose of joy

A police bomb-sniffing dog is led through the bleachers at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, ahead of the College World Series. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) Show caption
A police bomb-sniffing dog is led through the bleachers at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., on Wednesday, June 12, 2013, ahead of the College World Series. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

With apologies to Manchester United’s Old Trafford, when it comes to sports venues on this side of “The Pond,” nothing can really compare to the city in the dateline above.

Welcome back to Omaha and the College World Series.

Welcome to our Theatre of Dreams.

Most American sports championships endure a vagabond existence. The Super Bowl, Final Four and college football championship game (the BCS about to give way to the College Football Playoff) migrate annually. The World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals shift venues depending on the teams involved.

What’s left are really the only two cities in the sports lexicon that are as iconic as the games themselves, names that in the span of time it takes someone to utter their three syllables immediately conjure up moods and images and nostalgia as though they were the proverbial magic words.

One is Augusta. The other is Omaha.

Say the name Augusta, and virtually anyone knows you’re talking about golf’s premier event, the Masters, green jackets and blooming azaleas.

Say Omaha, and just about anyone knows you’re talking about the CWS. OK, some will think of a beach in Normandy or Warren Buffett, but most will think of baseball and idyllic summer afternoons near the banks of the Missouri River.

There’s little doubt what track Jared Foster’s mind is on. For the LSU sophomore, Omaha may not be the theatre of his dreams as much as his playground.

“It’s like Disney World almost,” he said this week. “As a kid, it’s, ‘What are you going to do now?’ ‘I’m going to Disney World.’ We’re going to Omaha. I can’t wait.”

You could fill a library with the volumes written on baseball, its pastoral nature and its connection to America’s agrarian past. It’s a connection that can be comforting in an increasingly fast-paced world that feels like it’s constantly hurtling more and more beyond our grasp.

Against the backdrop of professional baseball with its steady drumbeat of PED scandals, bloated salaries and equally bloated egos, college baseball holds a particular allure. Sure, the game occasionally has its issues, but the unfiltered joy with which young men play it has a certain purity to it — whether that purity is merely perceived or not.

Even though the CWS changed venues three years ago from venerated and antiquated Rosenblatt Stadium to sleek new TD Ameritrade Ballpark Omaha (TDABO as the NCAA media literature refers to it), Omaha is still the goal. It’s still the place every college player wants to end his season.

Often the dream begins long before that.

“Since I was 6 or 7 years old,” said LSU shortstop Alex Bregman, who since he’s just 19 doesn’t realize that isn’t really a long time.

A batboy for the New Mexico Lobos baseball team back then, Bregman would hear the players talking about this special place they were always trying to reach.

Omaha.

“I looked up to them and, when I saw what it was all about, I wanted to go there,” he said. “It’s for all the marbles. When you hear of Omaha, you think of the best baseball ever. It’s just going to be a blast.”

It’s the place that dreams are made of.