Day 0 – Friday, June 18
For the first time, the family RV was pulling out of the driveway with a driver other than my father. He was sitting at the dining room table on video calls for work. The ungunker of the Sunshine Pump was now going to be acting chauffeur. I can just imagine Import nodding in affirmation at the fitting role for The Hired Auburn Man. The approximately 4-hour drive was uneventful and got us halfway to our stopping point. The old man took over and got us the rest of the way to the middle of the state we will not recognize.
Day 1 – Saturday, June 19
My father took the wheel again and drove nearly to Omaha. I took the driver’s seat again to get to the rental car pickup and then on to the campground. The route to the campground provided the first problem for the rookie driver. GPS decided to take us down a side ride to the entrance that included a 11’6 clearance bridge. The RV, with AC units on top, is approximately 2 feet taller than that clearance. Thus, my father had to try and clear out the traffic behind us to give me room to back 36’ of motorhome up on a 2-lane road while only 100 feet off the main road. Luckily, there was a business entrance to back into then pull back onto the main road.
The fun seemed to be over with an alternate route using main thoroughfares only planned. The catch is that an overpass on that route was unknowingly down to a single lane with 10-foot lanes defined by concrete barriers on either side. The RV is 8’6 wide, so that passage was fine. Until the end when some genius construction worker had left one of the portable barriers sticking about a foot inside the concrete barrier. It became a bit like threading a 12-ton needle at highway speeds. No paint was lost in the adventure.
After parking and setting up camp, it was time to head off for the team sendoff at the hotel then eat before the game. We went to Blatt’s Beer & Table, which as I noted on Twitter was a risky decision since it was where I ate prior to the Game 1 loss in the 2019 CWS Finals. The Twist & Sour (Maker’s, lemon juice, honey simple syrup, ginger beer, and a twist of lemon peel) is one of my favorite cocktails ever. The pretzel bites are incredibly soft, but the real champion is the German rosemary mustard dipping sauce.
We decided to do a little merchandise shopping. The Vanderbilt-specific options were a bit bland, but each of us picked out a shirt. A major subplot of this trip revealed itself in the search for a particular hat. The retailers had planned for the 50% capacity restrictions originally stated by the NCAA. Vanderbilt baseball has become a national brand, and their version of the CWS hats were all gone. One in particular has become my and my father’s target for acquisition before the end of the trip.
Anyway, on to the game itself. We were over the Vanderbilt bullpen but back a few rows. With the planned capacity restrictions, the organizers made the decision to make the outfield reserved seats, as opposed to the traditional general admission. Unfortunately, the flood of youth teams in town for their own tournaments decided they would just treat it like general admission, so the first 3 innings were watched through the distraction of groups of children being reshuffled over and over again as coaches had decided they would seat their entire team together instead of in the correct seats.
After the pitching and defense got off to a rocky start, Rocker was his dominant self, and the bats popped just often enough to have a 6-5 lead going into the 9th. Maldonado showed signs of losing command, and Corbs went to Murphy who allowed a sac fly to tie the game. Then the nail-biting set in through extras. Vanderbilt missed some golden opportunities but was not punished before Jayson Gonzalez could finally knock in the winning run.
Day 2 – Sunday, June 20
With the intention of seeing each team play at least once, the family would be attending both games. We had waited to buy tickets and were able to get a pretty good deal on some 200-level seats along the 3rd base side for the early game and then opposite that for the evening game. Between games, we ate at DJ’s Dugout. After too many burgers on the trip out along with at Blatt’s the day before, we were hoping for something else. Most of the restaurants downtown have limited menus for the CWS though. The tacos were alright. The Blue Jay Lemonade was not something I would probably order again. It tasted like it was made with Minute Maid, not fresh lemonade.
The big takeaway from the day (besides joy at watching THEM fail miserably) was that the first base side getting into the shade early is a BIG plus. The stadium is well-planned in terms of sightlines, and the 200 level is definitely close enough to the action, even for a guy who actually enjoys being able to watch balls and strikes from center field.
Day 3 – Monday, June 21
To complete the goal of seeing every team, Monday was another 2-game day. These had been bought as soon as the bracket sides were established since we wanted to guarantee the ability to see Vanderbilt play. As such, we were out in center field. The weather was friendly with a high below 80, but the sun still baked when not hidden by the mercifully cloudy skies.
Between games, we decided to hit up Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina which is right across the street from TD Ameritrade. The 3 Little Pigs (garlic parmesan sauce, Canadian bacon, and sausage with a honey drizzle) was good. Their pizza is a big rectangle – no, I did not measure the size, nor is it listed – with thin crust and cut into squares. Another Creighton-inspired cocktail, this time just called The Blue Jay, was a 25 oz creation around coconut rum. I can only imagine how difficult the comically oversized cocktail glass would be to handle after a couple of Blue Jays were imbibed.
I really do not want to talk about the game. Watching it from center field and seeing the struggles at the plate was painful. Watching Jack Leiter absolutely steal souls was as impressive as the Vanderbilt hitting was frustrating.
Day 4 – Tuesday, June 22
We took the day off from TD Ameritrade. Instead, the family relaxed around the RV while watching the early game on TV. The old man got out the smoker and did a beer can chicken that was as good as anything you can get at a restaurant. Then we headed north of Omaha to catch a youth baseball game for the son of a work friend of my father. The other team was woefully overmatched, and it was a 13-0 run rule decision after 4 innings.
There was a stop on the way to the game to check tent city for THE HAT since we were told on Monday that a new shipment of product was coming. There was new stock but not of the item we were after. They are getting more product on Friday, but no one we talked to knew if the white hats were going to be on that shipment. I was told to check back today before the game as one man said he would reach out to the owner to get the information.
Overall, the trip has more than lived up to expectations except for Vanderbilt losing on Monday. We are planning on getting to the zoo (probably next week before a Finals game) along with hitting up a steakhouse or two. Part 2 will probably come on Monday to detail the rest of this week.