Rosenblatt ready for emotional swan song

A window cleaner works at Rosenblatt Stadium, in Omaha, Neb., on Tuesday. This year’s College World Series, starting today will be the last one played at Rosenblatt Stadium.

OMAHA, Neb. -- The essence of this stadium, interestingly enough, is found beyond its walls. What surrounds venerable, old Rosenblatt makes it special, just as much as what's found inside.

Exit the main gates, hang a quick right and cross 13th Street. There, you'll find Stadium View Sports Cards, a house that's been fashioned into an 8-year-old boy's fantasy: wall-to-wall baseball cards and memorabilia.

The proprietor, Greg Pivovar, opened the store 19 years ago as a hobby -- a hobby devoted to a hobby.

But, clearly, it's much more than that, especially because of its relative proximity to one of baseball's cathedrals. (The store's motto is, "In the Shadow of the Blatt.")

Pivovar, an Omaha attorney who goes by "Piv," immediately bonded with the neighborhood, which is something like Wrigleyville's little brother.

He took to it so much that he wanted to give back. And he's done so, since 1992, in the form of beer.

Not just beer, but free beer. People, it turns out, like free things -- and especially free alcohol. (There are soft drinks, too.)

"It took off pretty well," Pivovar said.

A new T-shirt is ordered for every College World Series with an updated count of how many beers he's given away since '92. The current estimate is 40,000.

"It's a little low, probably," said Pivovar, who said he spends about $3,000 a series on beer and snacks.

Mid-interview, no less, and Piv is playing host.

"Nike!" he calls out to a customer, who's mindlessly looking over some T-shirts. "Hey, Nike! You, with the yellow hat! You need a beer?"

Midwestern charm? It's real. At least it's real here.

"The neighborhood is what makes Rosenblatt special," Pivovar said. "It's the people. They're just friendly."

Even the friendly are a bit down right now. See, this is Rosenblatt's last ride. The College World Series will be played next year across town, at shiny, new TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

Asked if this is something like a final celebration for the College World Series at the Blatt, a 61-year-old tradition that began in 1950, Pivovar can't even mask his emotion. He can't feign a positive response when everything inside is pulling the opposite direction.

"Yeah, we'll party every day, but it's sad," he said. "I'll be crying every day."

Clemson's Jack Leggett and South Carolina's Ray Tanner obviously know this turf well.

Tanner has brought USC here four times since 2002.

"I love the fact that we're here in the final chapter of Rosenblatt," Tanner said. "I feel like that's very special and unique. The history for the College World Series, for many years to come, will be Rosenblatt. Although the new doors will open next year, the history will be here."

Tanner's favorite moment, not surprisingly, is the 2002 team reaching the national championship game against Texas, even if the Gamecocks didn't win it.

"Everything you do here is great, but I remember the distinction of that," Tanner said. "I thought, 'It's the last game of the college season and we're playing in it.'"

This is Leggett's sixth trip with the Tigers since 1995. But he's been here seven times. Leggett came as a player, with Maine, in 1976.

"The great thing about the Omaha experience and playing in the College World Series is," Leggett said, "it's indelible in your mind forever."

He then rattled off specific scores and plays from the '76 series. Bringing a team here as a coach, he said, trumps even the playing experience.

"You understand the fruits of your labors all pay off," Leggett said. "They see this place I've been talking about for so long is real."

Clearly, that's just a small sample size of the memories, from players and coaches, that have made this event - at this venue - so endearing and enduring. Books have been written, and more will be written, to capture the magic that you can just about taste when you walk inside.

The dates, 1950-2010, are everywhere. On T-shirts, posters, the dugout walls. It's as if you're part of a wake for this building. And maybe that's what it is, with the mixture of emotions swirling in and around the place.

"We want to leave Rosenblatt with dignity," said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's vice president for baseball. "We want to remember all these great plays, great experiences that we've had here.

"And in no way will that new stadium duplicate Rosenblatt."

Reach Travis Haney at thaney@postandcourier.com, check out the Gamecocks blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/gamecocks and follow him on Twitter (@gamecocksblog).