New Year's Days

The first time we saw Werner Park, there was snow covering the field. For Opening Night three months later, Mother Nature was being almost as vicious. Michael & I had our tickets:

...But after two days of monsoon rains and temperatures dipping into the 30s, the big super special Very First Game was postponed until the following night. Ticket holders were allowed to exchange their tickets for any other regular season home game. So I went out to the ball park to exchange ours for the next night's Very First Game.

I noticed the news van parked at the entrance and the reportress talking animatedly at the camera. She asked me for a few comments, but I declined because I was cold and disgruntled, and still resentful at losing my Omaha Royals at Rosenblatt. Actually, it was because I was in a hurry; I had to pick Michael up from school. But later I saw myself, in my brown leather jacket and big white shoes. Reportress Hannah Pickett was pointing at me and complaining that I wouldn't talk to her. Maybe.

So I tried to exchange my Very First Game Box Seat tickets for some new very first game Box Seat tickets. The problem was, they'd already sold most of the seats for that game. I was able to upgrade to Club Box seats— as long as I paid the difference. I became even more irked. Submitting to the extortion, I got my replacement tickets, and Michael & I went to the Very First Game the next night.

It wasn't terribly fun. And it was still terribly cold and misty. But as a consolation, we got little welcome mats for being amongst the first 2500 people there.

I got another picture of Michael with his friend Casey, and bought him a misdated T-shirt for future use. I was still boycotting Storm Chasers merchandise in protest of the name change from the Omaha Royals, but I felt this purchase was justified by its being a Special Event shirt.

We spent 2 innings watching the game and eating Werner Park's signature cold-dogs (now 6 for 6 on the Hot Dogs being either cold or uncooked), and spent the rest of the game going between the Fun Zone and sitting in the car with the heater on, listening to the game on the radio. The last time we left to warm up, on our way out we were handed a special photo print.

Ostensibly, this was the real First Pitch. We had watched about two dozen Ceremonial First Pitches, which I thought kind of diluted the importance of a Ceremonial First Pitch. Makes them a bunch of Dignitaries Throwing Balls, as far as I'm concerned. I believe there should be one Ceremonial First Pitch per game. Otherwise, the second one isn't really the First one, now is it.

This also wasn't the Very First Game at Werner Park. They'd inaugurated our new ballpark with a High School game a week earlier. It wasn't the first Storm Chasers game, either. Omaha's pro team began their season at Albuquerque a week earlier. For me, those qualifiers made this game quite a bit less special.

The Chasers did end up winning the game 2 to 1. The first professional player to cross the plate at Werner Park was Eric Hosmer. The second was Mike Moustakas, batted in by a triple from Johnny Giavotella. By the end of the season all three of those guys ended up in the starting lineup of the Kansas City Royals. That's what Triple-A ball is.*

Meanwhile, the World-Herald photog got a shot at the beginning of the game, when Michael and I were still in our seats.

I was strangely disappointed that Werner Park doesn't Stomp properly. The Rosenblatt stands were hollow steel, so when time came to stomp, the whole place would go BOOOMMM! BOOOMMM! BOOOMMM! Here, it's solid concrete, so when everybody stomps, it goes "tik tik tik."

However, the World-Herald, Sarpy County officials, and Storm Chasers management all said it was a wonderful event at a marvelous facility. I can't argue with those sources. I took some pictures, but Michael was too cold to smile for any of them. Oddly, on the way home, he said he had a good time. I guess I'll accept that.

So as Michael grows up, my tall tales to him will be: We saw the first Storm Chasers game EVER. And it was the first game in Papillion's ball park EVER. And we saw his friend Mayor Black throw the First Pitch. And we got our picture on the Internet. And there were fireworks. And we had a GREAT time.

Over the summer, the weather warmed up and we went to a bunch of games. I had to break my boycott of Storm Chasers stuff when Michael needed a new Ball of Scrawls for autographic purposes.

L to R: Outfielder Paulo Orlando, Pitcher Brandon Sisk, and First-Baseman Clint Robinson.

Even the players seem to amuse themselves trying to decipher previous scribbles. Trying to familiarize Michael with these guys, I also started to figure out who they are. You have to do that since you can't read their signatures. And researching them at home, I began to realize they were humans, rather than Action Figures.

The next time we encountered Clint Robinson, I was taking photos when Michael offered up his Ball of Scrawls. Robinson was the designated hitter for the All-PCL Team, and ended up with a season average of .326 with 23 home runs. His 35 doubles for the season were just two less than the all-time franchise record. Clint scrutinized Michael's Ball, saying, "I think I'm on here already."

"You are," I confirmed, and we all shared a moment of pseudo-recognition. See, a baseball with Clint Robinson's autograph was available in the Storm Front gift shop for sixty bucks. But since then, we've gotten his autograph— a few times. There are over a dozen guys whose autographs we've gotten twice, and a few who've signed multiple times. That's what Triple-A ball is.*

Werner Park is most often referred to as being more "intimate" than Rosenblatt Stadium. And the Storm Chasers management had stated that they were trying to make the entire enterprise more fan-friendly. I can appreciate that. And because of those efforts, where I was in love with Rosenblatt the Ballpark— here at Werner, I really began to follow the team. Michael had roamed all over Rosenblatt Stadium, but there, he was never allowed in the dugout...

Catcher Manny Piña, one of the many Chasers who got called to Kansas City before the year was out.

By May, the Storm Chasers were already first in their Division. They stayed there the rest of the year. In part, due to awesome baserunning like this...

...And partly because of their bullpen. Michael had a 23-mph fastball. He'd been practicing.

Since Werner Park is more "intimate" than Rosenblatt, Michael began to snag more Official Pacific Coast League game-used baseballs. And while I like the accessibility of the players, Michael enjoys the fan-friendliness of the place. He's met some unique characters.

He refrained from telling Old McDonald that his folks never let him eat McDonald's-brand laboratory-created ingestible product.

Neither Michael nor I ever grew comfortable with the weird new mascots. He still prefers talking to his old friend Casey.

And he still likes the girls who make Y-M-C-A with their arms.

It turned out Michael & I went to more ball games at Werner Park in its first year than in three years at Rosenblatt. I don't feel as much like it's my own private ballpark, the way I did at Rosenblatt— attendance is at record levels and there are only one-third of the seats. But we do feel more "at home". We've learned a few tricks, taken advantage of various privileges. I tell people: It's not a truth, it's an attitude— We own this place!

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