You know it's big game week when the locals are flashing their blue and gold.
Come on. You know I'm talking about the Omaha Storm Chasers, going for two Pacific Coast League titles in three years.
Has Class AAA ball had more juice in this town? Hard to imagine.
The Chasers are in their third straight league championship series, a first for the franchise that won American Association titles in 1969-70, 1978 and 1990.
The club has drawn more than 400,000 fans for the third straight year, without the heavy dose of giveaways. In the third year of its new name and in custom-built Werner Park, merchandise sales are up “four times” what they were three years ago, the last year of the Omaha Royals at Rosenblatt Stadium.
It used to be that baseball season here ended in August, and some years, after the College World Series. But the Chasers have become a force with their own nucleus of loyal seam heads.
I saw it last Friday night for the playoffs, as the Chasers took on Oklahoma City, Creighton men's soccer and every high school team in the city. The box score said 5,100 showed up at Werner Park. By these eyes, that number was legitimate.
What was even more interesting was to see the number of fans, young and old, wearing Storm Chasers hats, T-shirts and jerseys. All three versions. You never saw that at an Omaha Royals game. Not to this extent.
The winning doesn't hurt and this three-year run has been about the revival of the Kansas City farm system, with Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and Danny Duffy and Wil Myers stopping by. That's part of the equation.
They say minor-league baseball is about the amenities and distractions, the circus not the baseball, and Werner Park is a testament to that. But as team president Martie Cordaro said, the playoffs are about the baseball and the baseball fans.
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It wasn't long ago that Class AAA baseball was lost in the shadows in this town, playing to sections of empty seats in a mammoth ballpark. But something big has grown out by the cornfields off Highway 370. An identity.
Those who doubted the move to Werner Park and the name change should take note. It's big game week in Lincoln. But tonight and Wednesday night, crowds of 5,000 are expected to watch a minor-league baseball game. In September. What a deal.
» Bo Pelini appropriately opened his press conference on Monday with condolences to UCLA after the death of walk-on receiver Nick Pasquale on Sunday. I would expect there will be a moment of silence before Saturday's game, also. It's hard to know how UCLA players will react. Head coach Jim Mora became emotional during a press conference on Monday, yelling at a media member who had been talking on a cell phone while Mora was discussing Pasquale. UCLA practices will be off limits to the media this week.
» If you thought Nebraska freshman Josh Banderas was surprised to find out he was starting at middle linebacker, you should have seen his dad, former Husker tight end Tom Banderas. Josh found out last Thursday. Tom?
“I didn't tell him,” Josh said on Monday. “He found out when the game started and I didn't run out for kickoff team.”
Josh said his dad gave him trouble about not telling him, but the proud papa couldn't stay mad long. His advice to Josh: “Just play football.”
» Local fans may have recognized a familiar face if they were watching the CBS Sports Network broadcast of UNC-Pembroke and Winston-Salem last Thursday night. Pembroke beat the defending Division II national champs, 25-21, thanks to eight catches for 46 yards from Te'vell Williams. Local fan Craig Reisser, who has sent me several emails about Williams, calls Williams the best receiver from North Omaha since Niles Paul. He said Williams moved to Fayetteville, N.C., when he was an eighth-grader at Lewis and Clark Middle School and has been following his progress closely. Sounds like a name to watch in the future.
» I hadn't seen Saturday's Husker uniform up close until Monday, when the TV guys had a model of the jersey and helmet the Huskers will wear. I like the black jersey — a lot. The numbers on the jersey, not so much. The black stripe on the white helmet is pretty slick, too. I'm all for tinkering with tradition once a year, and this might be the look I'd do every year. I'm not sure I'd be against changing to that helmet.
» Wrestling is an Olympic sport. Golf is not. Congrats to the wrestling community. That was an escape and reversal with time running out.
» Creighton's move to the Big East sunk in further with the release of this year's league schedule. What struck me was only five Saturday games for CU after November, and only two at home. Three league home games on Sunday. One on Friday night. I don't know if we're supposed to read anything into Providence being the final game. Poor Friars. That's Doug McDermott Senior Day and Grant Gibbs Graduate School Day. Don't think it will have the same electricity as last year, unless the Friars come out in Wichita jerseys.
» Jadeveon Clowney was over-hyped and now he's over-critiqued. Most of the Clowney hype was based on one highlight play when Michigan forgot to block him. Now he can go back to just being a great football player.
» Defenders will always be a long shot to win the Heisman. You need to touch the ball. By this time next week, the early leader to win the Heisman will be Johnny Manziel or A.J. McCarron. Whoever wins on Saturday in College Station.
» If the world can live without Oklahoma-Nebraska, it will make it without Michigan-Notre Dame.
» If you watch your college football with a computer nearby, here's a great idea for Saturday. Go to coachescabana.com during the Nebraska-UCLA game, click on the Nebraska icon and connect with the iconic offensive line coach. Former NU offensive line coach Milt Tenopir will be set up at Dino's Eastside Grille in Lincoln during the game. With former NU lineman Matt Hoskinson as his sidekick, Tenopir will watch the game and take questions from fans during the game, and answer them via video or Twitter, accessible on coachescabana.com. This is the brainchild of Barry Switzer and Tenopir is one of many former coaches involved. You want to know how the line is doing against the Bruins? Ask Uncle Milt.
» Back by popular demand, or because I wanted a free lunch, the “Shatel Sports Series” will open year two on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Omaha Press Club. My first guest will be World-Herald sports writer Sam McKewon, expert on Nebraska football, among other things. Please join us at noon, up at the best view in town.
» One more and I'm outta here: I always wanted to open my own sports-themed restaurant, but I never had the money or the patience. So I'm doing the next best thing. Welcome to my sports hangout, “Sweep Write,” now open for business on Omaha.com. It's a place where I can blog and chat, and we can hang out and you can tell me how wrong I am. Bring your own food and drink and opinions. We never close.