Kris Bryant wins Dick Howser Trophy; new light for Road to Omaha sculpture

OMAHA, Neb. — University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant has been honored with the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball’s player of the year.

Bryant led the nation with 31 home runs, the most by any Division I player in a decade. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the major-league draft, by the Cubs, after hitting 10 more homers than any other player this season.

The junior from Las Vegas was presented the award at a news conference Saturday and will be honored during the College Baseball Foundation’s Night of Champions on June 29 in Lubbock, Texas.

LSU had three of the 40 semifinalists for the award — first baseman Mason Katz, shortstop Alex Bregman and pitcher Aaron Nola.

The Howser Trophy winner is selected by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and presented by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Area Chamber of Commerce.

NCAA’s Poppe to retire

The NCAA administrator who oversaw the growth of the College World Series into one of the nation’s major summer sports traditions is working his 26th and final CWS.

Dennis Poppe, vice president of championships and alliances, is retiring Jan. 1 after 39 years at the NCAA. He said he plans to keep coming back every year to take in the event as a fan.

Poppe, 65, was the key intermediary between the NCAA’s top brass and Omaha leaders, and he is credited with helping keep the CWS in the city where it’s been played every year since 1950.

When Poppe started running the tournament in 1988, the CWS averaged under 15,000 fans a game and was played at a Rosenblatt Stadium that had fallen into disrepair.

Attendance steadily climbed, and Rosenblatt underwent $40 million in renovations over the next 20 years. When the city decided to stop putting money into Rosenblatt and build 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park, the NCAA rewarded Omaha with a 25-year contract that keeps the CWS in the city through 2035.

“I know of nobody who has done more for college baseball the last 20 years,” American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz said.

New light for sculpture

Fans attending the College World Series at night will notice some new lighting on the Road to Omaha sculpture in front of the main gate at TD Ameritrade Park.

Lighting fixtures and glass panels attached to the sculpture’s concrete backsplash, as well as a new spotlight, provide a different kind of illumination.

CWS Inc. president Jack Diesing Jr. said the lighting is synchronized to provide an alternating spectrum of colors behind the sculpture.

The 1,500-pound bronze sculpture was created by John Lajba and depicts four baseball players celebrating victory at home plate.

It was dedicated in 1999 and moved to the downtown ballpark from its original location at the old Rosenblatt Stadium.