A Tale of Two Ballparks

Change is sometimes hard to swallow. One of the new Reuben sandwiches you can eat while watching the newly-rebranded Omaha Storm Chasers at the newly-built Werner Park is not. And that’s the price of progress. The old and familiar is crowded out by the new and improved. It’s always difficult to gauge how this will be received. Can the lingering flavor of Rosenblatt Stadium be slathered over by the latest designer mustards or washed away with a wider array of beers? Is convenience more powerful than nostalgia? Omaha will begin to find out over the next seven days with the opening of Werner Park on Apr. 16, followed by the debut of TD Ameritrade Park four days later. If New York hadn’t done it in 2009 — opening the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field within three days of each other — this would likely be an unprecedented level of ballpark christenings for an American city. Most cities, unless they’re home to some of the oldest franchises in Major League Baseball, don’t have two stadiums of equal caliber much less open them both at essentially the same time. For better or for worse — and the din of that debate grows quieter by the day — that’s Omaha now. I’ve been to Werner Park on a couple of occasions and it’s going to be everything a minor league park should be. It won’t feel as cavernous as Rosenblatt did for Royals games thanks to a reduced number of fixed seats, but there’s still room to go big for big events thanks to grass seating in the outfield that expands the park’s capacity to nearly 10,000. There’s a wiffle ball field, basketball court and carousel on the premises for the kids and a couple of cool bar options for the adults. It might seem strange to replicate the experience of standing at a bar watching baseball after you’ve paid for a seat, but trust me, it’s a great way to catch a game. It will have a local feel too, from the suites named after area baseball legends to the food offered at the concession stands. In addition to the aforementioned Reuben — available in corned beef, turkey and sausage varieties — Werner Park will also feature burgers from Omaha Steaks and hot dogs from ConAgra. A minor Facebook protest has boiled up over the fact that Lucky Bucket, which is brewed a scant two miles away, isn’t on the beer menu, but given the outcry and the devotion to local products elsewhere I’m guessing that the La Vista-made lager will eventually find its way into the park. TD Ameritrade Park has a different feel. From the outside it looks like a major league stadium. Two large stairways — one at the corner of 12th and Cuming, the other at 12th and Fahey — give the sleek glass and brick exterior a more welcoming atmosphere. Even circled with construction tape the park still looks like it’s open to the public. Fans will discover all the modern amenities when they arrive to watch Creighton and Nebraska play Apr. 19. The seats are bigger and feature cup holders, there are wide concourses allowing a good view of the field even while standing in line at one of the specialty concession stands and the 65-foot scoreboard screen broadcasts in high definition. From the club level you get a good look at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over leftfield, a suitable replacement for Rosenblatt’s Desert Dome view. That view is mostly obscured at the concourse level but you can always stare at the swooping roof of the Qwest Center, MECA’s other major addition to the city’s sporting landscape. While TD Ameritrade Park seemingly has everything the modern fan could want, the one thing it might lack is a defining characteristic. The outfield wall is uniform and a few small pines in centerfield hardly qualify as a major landscaping quirk. The stadium looks like a world-class facility, both inside and out. It also looks like a lot of other stadiums. During a tour a week before the park’s opening I went in looking for something that made it distinctly Omaha and I left still looking. But maybe that’s the College World Series’ job. After all, that’s why it was built, to keep Omaha’s signature event in Omaha. And it will do that quite comfortably. The Omaha Storm Chasers open Werner Park on Apr. 15 at 7:05 p.m. against the Nashville Sounds. On Apr. 19 Creighton hosts Nebraska at 6:30 p.m. in the inaugural game at TD Ameritrade Park.

posted at 03:12 pm
on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011


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