Every summer the best teams in college baseball meet in the middle. Literally. In Omaha, Nebraska (the middle of America) on summer solstice (the middle of the year) eight teams compete for the national championship. It’s not nearly as popular as the NCAA basketball tournament (on which there’s $2B bet every year). Yet it has sentimental value for me, as I’ve always loved baseball and wanted to go to the CWS since I was a kid.
The games I watched as a kid were played at Rosenblatt Stadium. This year a brand new stadium debuted, Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park. Same friendly people, considerably more comfortable seats.
While I’m sure some of the character couldn’t be replaced, the new stadium was beautiful, with the same dimensions on the field and good views from every seat.
The thing about college baseball is that it’s really about the team winning. Individual players and performances are only secondary to the win. The national champions, South Carolina, actually made it to the final game without hitting a home run and still went undefeated in Omaha. College baseball is like simple, purist sushi versus the spicy tuna crunch roll of Major League Baseball.
Fine, enough about baseball. The first thing I ate in Omaha was a steak, of course.
This baseball bat sized tomahawk from Sullivan’s was dry aged and enormous. We sat next to Nomar Garciappara and stuffed ourselves with Omaha steaks, blue cheese covered wedges and a side of creamed corn. It wasn’t the best steak I’ve ever had, but damn good.
They’re not known for their barbecue, but in a city famous for steaks you still can get decent brisket, ribs and pork. These were from the fan fest outside the stadium.
The best meal of the trip was at Bohemian Cafe. They serve Czechoslovakian cuisine. Food that requires sitting for 3 hours afterward. Coincidentally that’s the only thing we planned on doing.
The decor and staff are from another a time. A happier time when one didn’t feel guilty eating 4,900 calories for lunch.
This gravy covered brilliance is their special $8 lunch combo. After the liver dumpling soup (not pictured, but imagine delicious liver flavored matzo balls denser than freshly poured concrete) we were served a plate of gravy. Under the gravy was tender Svickova (Czech style sauerbraten), sweet and sour cabbage and Czech dumplings. We also had their Polish sausage and sauerkraut, because we couldn’t not have them.
Next to Bohemian Cafe sits another CWS staple. The little stand called Ethnic Sandwich Shop makes a range of best-in-Omaha sandwiches, with daily specials that include Hot Roast Beef, Lasagna and Mac and Cheese. I kept it simple with the Sparky (a hoagie with hard salami, capicola ham, lettuce, tomato, red onions and Italian dressing).
The highlight of the trip was an off the beaten path dive, aptly called Happy Bar.
Tall boys of PBR for $3. Air Conditioning set to 68 degrees (it was a humid 88 outside). A welcoming, staff and patrons. Happiness defined.
We took a short drive to Wahoo, Nebraska to try a couple of local favorites. Wahoo Locker is a cured meat champion. They win awards for their summer sausage. The lingering smoky aroma of their award winning jalapeno and cheddar beef sticks made the most lasting impression of the trip.
Before we left we got butterburgers and frozen custard from Culver’s. My affinity for Culver’s stems from many post-disc-golf burgers during college. As I introduce it to new people, who are totally underwhelmed and disappointed I realize it’s simply a point of nostalgia as opposed to a great fast food spot.
It’s worth mentioning the crazy storm that blew through at the end of one of the games. We drove straight towards this insanely menacing cloud, before a tree blew across the street. We turned into the first building we could find, which happened to be a hospital, and waited it out. The saying holds true, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait ten minutes.”
After many days without a vegetable I was ready to return to the arid Los Angeles basin. I can happily check the CWS off the bucket list.