Nostalgia and new beginnings

The year in sports

In 1991 Madonna wrote a terrible song called “This Used to be My Playground.” It was a nostalgic slab of nothingness designed to support the singer’s lead role in the significantly-better-by-comparison baseball film A League of Their Own. The nice thing about 2010 is that, as far as I know, no one used that song in tribute to Rosenblatt Stadium. This was the year of farewells to the old South Omaha ball yard and from the start of summer on it felt like there was hardly time to do anything but say goodbye. The temptation towards wistfulness was everywhere but folks largely elected to party instead. Well played, Omaha. In June, Rosenbaltt hosted its final College World Series. This was the big farewell. The reason the dusty old municipal stadium resonates on the larger sporting landscape is because of the CWS, and that whole show moves downtown in 2011. But the last neighborhood party down on South 13th Street didn’t seem to be tinged with too much regret. It was still loud, raucous and hot as ever. The way it should be. And South Carolina won. File that away for sports bar trivia face-offs 30 years from now. The Royals had their last hurrah at the stadium Sept. 2. The surviving Rosenblatts and 23,000 other Omahans were there for the appropriately reverent send off, but the best gift for fans of Omaha baseball might have been the presence of Mike Moustakas. The 22-year-old third baseman made Rosenblatt his personal launching pad over the last two months of the season, swatting 15 homers in 52 games with the Royals, and finished with 36 on the season to lead all of Minor League Baseball . He was, simply, the best player to come through Omaha in a while and it was fitting that he homered in the last home game of the season. Will he be back next summer to batter Werner Park as a newly minted Storm Chaser? That’s up to the Kansas City Royals. Moustakas is expected to start spring training next season with the big league club. But that game wasn’t the true end for Rosenblatt either. That honor went to the Omaha Nighthawks, the new United Football League franchise that obliterated attendance records in the fledgling league. Take out the part where the team didn’t make the league title game hosted in its home stadium — in fact, let’s just ignore that the actual final game at Rosenblatt involved teams from Las Vegas and Florida — and this was a storybook first year for professional football in Omaha. The team reported sellouts for its four home games this year. Change was the constant elsewhere as well. In 2010 Creighton lost two coaching legends. In April, Dana Altman, the most successful basketball coach in school history, left for Oregon. Little more than a month later Bob Warming, the man who built and then revived the storied Bluejay soccer program, abruptly left to coach Penn State. Both coaches were instrumental in building the two tent poles of Creighton athletics and before Memorial Day they were gone. But their lasting legacy may have been in who the Bluejays were able to get to replace them. With Morrison Stadium serving as one of the crown jewels in college soccer the Jays snapped up one of the hottest young coaches on the scene in Jamie Clark. He took an unranked team, picked to finish third in the Missouri Valley Conference, to within a penalty kick of advancing to the third round of the NCAA tournament. The transition on the court has been a little slower to develop but, like they did with Altman, the Jays were able to sway a Big 12 coach to make the move to the MVC. Getting Greg McDermott says something. Perhaps the biggest splash of 2010, however, came on the ice. After finishing a respectable 20-16-6 last year, University of Nebraska at Omaha Coach Dean Blais was faced with the challenge of moving to possibly the best hockey conference in the country with a team full of freshmen in his second season at the helm. Few would have faulted the Mavs if they wallowed in the middle of the pack in their first season in the WCHA, but by Christmas UNO had been ranked as high as fourth in the country with wins over traditional powers Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota. Not bad for a program that didn’t exist 13 years ago and, with half a season still to come, it could be just the beginning. Isn’t that always the best thing about turning over a new year? Now if we can just make sure that the Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started” isn’t used to christen TD Ameritrade Park we’ll be in good shape for 2011 as well.

posted at 08:04 am
on Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

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