The End

With inserts from articles on oroyals.com

I  was horrified! To add insult to injury, besides losing the hallowed Rosenblatt Stadium, the final game was apparently the last Omaha Royals game ever, as well...

Since the Omaha Royals final home stand got underway, fans have been able to submit their ideas for a possible new name for Omaha's Triple-A team in 2011, when it moves into the new ballpark in Sarpy County. So far, over 400 different names have been suggested...

I was dismayed that it was the final game at Rosenblatt Stadium, but at least I'd been prepared for that, the news coming almost two years ago. Now they dropped the bombshell that not only was I losing my ballpark, I was going to lose my team. Chagrined, I grew wistful dwelling on my memories of the place. Nothing, I suppose, compared to a fellow we met in line— he'd been a season ticket holder for thirty-some years; his companion said they'd done one five-year stint without missing a single game. Or there was a guy I talked to who played there on the 1962 Dodgers team. And there's stadium superintendant Jesse Cuevas, whose first job there was as a ballboy in 1969.

But I have my own little memories, too... Things like:

  • Watching the '85 World Champion Kansas City Royals play an exhibition game against their farm team;
  • Seeing Bo Jackson a few years later in another one;
  • Being there the night the O-Royals won the Triple-A championship in 1990;
  • Barging through a plain, unmarked door to find the original Hall of Fame room— quiet, cool, and empty, with carpet, closed-circuit TVs, and margaritas;
  • Spending the 1992 season with the Guys In Section P, keeping Steve the Bud Light Guy busy;
  • Suffering through Luis Aquino's no-hitter on June 20, 1988 'cause the high that day was a sweltering 101 degrees;
  • Shivering wetly in the concourse on freezing rainy opening nights, friends huddled together with cocoa and coffee...

Lots of fun! So I had to take my son to see the Last Game Ever, and Jennifer wanted to come, too. So did a bunch of other people.

A crowd of 23,795 fans - the seventh-largest in the 42-year history of the Omaha Royals - turned out Thursday night to say goodbye to an old friend. The sprawling facility has served Kansas City's Triple-A affiliate since the franchise's 1969 inception, and it has hosted the College World Series for the past six decades.

There was a special Fan Fest being held outside the gates. While we stood in line, a band called Happy Together played old standards, and a juggling clown with stilts talked to Michael briefly before continuing his act elsewhere. Michael got his face painted in an effort to resemble Casey the blue lion, but didn't like it. He vowed to never have his face painted again.

We skipped the line where people were getting autographs from past and present Kansas City players ('cause I didn't know the ones I saw, and didn't see the ones I knew), and instead got Michael's "autograph ball" signed by three more current Omaha players. (Actually, shortstop Irving Falu signed it a second time, but we like him. Every time he comes to the plate, we yell, "Fa-LLOOOOOOOOOOOO!")

In his last 8 games, Irving Falu is hitting .455 (15-for-33) with 4 RBI, 9 runs scored and 2 stolen bases.

I had a copy of the Omaha World-Herald's 300-page commemorative book "Rosenblatt Stadium: Omaha's Diamond on the Hill," in which author Steve Pivovar inscribed, "Michael: One last game, one last chance to experience Rosenblatt's magic. Our stadium will soon be gone, but it will live forever in our hearts!" Unquote.

There was a table with boxes of swag; we proceeded to get team sets of baseball cards from various years, and team photos of the current Omaha roster, and the Championship teams from 1970 and 1990. My favorite kitchy weird thing was the team photo of the 1985 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. I remember those guys!

We moved on to a table where they were selling limited edition "I Was There" T-shirts, like Casey's wearing in the photo above. They had a Medium for Jennifer, and a Youth-Small for Michael, but no XL or bigger sizes for me. The guy selling them said they had other sizes inside. So now I was on a mission— to get inside.

We rejoined Jennifer in line, in time to be among the first 2000 fans through the gate. Thus we each received a commemorative miniature stadium seat, replicas of the seats at Omaha Municipal Stadium when it opened in 1948.

We bustled our way to become crammed in the doorway of the tiny Royal Treasures gift shop. Standing there, I noticed a girl, obviously staff, trying to unobtrusively smoosh herself in a corner. She was wearing one of those limited "while supplies last" shirts, so after a few minutes, I asked her if they did actually have those shirts inside. She said no... and amusingly, half the customers immediately squeezed their way out of the store. Does nobody think to ask these things but me?

I collected Jennifer and Michael from the nook where they were waiting, and we promptly exited, to take all our swag back to the car. Along the way, a freaky hippie-looking man in a van called me over. Inside the van were piles of Royals paraphernalia. He said he had extra tickets; did I want any? I said no, and without skipping a beat he went on to tell me that he was handicapped, wheelchair-bound, and waiting on some friend to take him inside. I recognized him as the same guy I had grinned at the night before, because after that next-to-last game, I found him an amusing sight, sitting in a wheelchair area and absolutely festooned with Royals regalia while someone took his picture. Seems if there was anything made with Royals or Rosenblatt on it, it was attached to (or hanging off of) him!

Since his friend was late and he hadn't been able to get to the giveaway tent, I jogged over to our car and retreived one of our little seats for him to add to his collection.

Pre-game ceremonies will begin on the field at 6:45 p.m. The Royals will recognize several former players including Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer Frank White, Paul Splittorff, Dennis Leonard, Willie Wilson, Chris Hatcher and many others. Wendi Rosenblatt, Johnny's granddaughter, will sing the National Anthem. Immediately afterwards will be a flyover by a RC135 Joint Reconnaissance Aircraft.

Waiting in the second wave of lines to get back in through the gates, we missed the pre-game ceremonies, but we saw the RC135 fly over. I told Michael, "See how special you are?— You get flyovers like that all the time at home!" (Since we live about five miles away from the Strategic Air Command.)

We made our way in, got Thirsty Thursday Dollar-Cokes, and a mini-pizza from the Subway® stand. Later, I told Jennifer, "I missed my chance to get one last Quarter Pound All Beef Royal Dog.

"But I guess it's for the best," I said, sadly melodramatic. "It would have probably tasted... of tears."

We missed the first half-inning amidst the crush of people, but escaped into our seats in time to see:

"Minor League Player of the Year" candidate Mike Moustakas belted a two-run homer to right-center field. The home run - which turned out to the last one hit in the ballpark - extended the 21-year old phenom's streak to eight home runs in eight games. It was his Minor League-leading 36th home run of the season.

The O-Royals took a 2-1 lead in the first inning on the strength of Moustakas' home run and never looked back.

Each team scored a run in the fourth, with Omaha's coming home on an infield single by Jarrod Dyson, his second of four hits on the night. Dyson would also collect two stolen bases and score two runs in the contest. He picked up the final hit in the 'Blatt's history with an eighth inning single.

Dyson also got the game-winning out, when a lazy fly ball off the bat of Round Rock's Brandon Barnes settled into his glove, sealing a 6-2 victory for the hometown Royals. Dyson's routine catch was the final play in Rosenblatt Stadium's 62-year history as a professional baseball stadium.

After the game, Jesse Cuevas addressed the crowd while his ground crew dug up home plate — to be sent, by request, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

The plate at Cooperstown Real live dirt

The Hall of Fame has the plate, but at least I got some of the dirt.

On a shelf in my room at home I had a baseball, covered with autographs of the 1975 Kansas City Royals, including pitcher Paul Splittorff, the winningest pitcher in Royals history. (On May 25, 2011, Splittorff died at his home in the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs of complications from skin cancer. He was 64.)

Splittorff, who won 163 games in Kansas City, played on Omaha's 1969 and 1970 championship teams.

Decades later, Splittorff was able to watch his son, Jamie, pitch at Rosenblatt during the 1993 College World Series. He remarked on how special this was, since it was the only ballpark that he and his son both competed in.

And that was one of Rosenblatt's primary appeals, in that its longevity united the generations. This point was illustrated in dramatic fashion at the end of the evening, when septuagenarian Steve Rosenblatt stepped into the batter's box to deliver one last hit. The pitcher was Tommy Kelly, grandson of Tom Kelly who threw the very first pitch at the stadium in 1948.

Steve, the son of stadium namesake (and former Omaha mayor) Johnny Rosenblatt, told the crowd that "If I hit one that I think Johnny Rosenblatt would be proud of, I'll give the thumbs-up and we'll start the fireworks." After scattering a few balls around the infield to growing applause, Steve hit a sharp grounder past third base.

He smiled, gave the thumbs-up and the lights went out at Rosenblatt Stadium.

In the dim light after the fireworks show, I stood with a sad smile and watched the stadium empty, masses of people funneling out of the exits and dispersing into the night. As the crowd thinned, Jennifer and Michael waited patiently while I kept standing, just looking around, a montage of memories flashing through my mind. It was really sinking in that this would be the last time I would ever see the place, so I stood for a long time in the darkened stillness, watching ghosts.

After about fifteen minutes, most of the people had left and the stadium sat silent and empty. I actually had to fight back tears when the PA system came back on to play one last song.