NCAA’s Poppe: CWS’ new stadium meets expectations

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OMAHA, NEB. (AP) - The NCAA administrator in charge of baseball is pleased so far with the new TD Ameritrade Park through the first five days of the College World Series.

“I’m not going to celebrate yet,” Dennis Poppe said. “We might be at halftime starting the second half.”

Poppe, the NCAA vice president for football and baseball, said other than a few minor glitches, the first CWS at the $131 million stadium has run smoothly.

The facility was built to enhance the fan experience _ Rosenblatt Stadium was cramped and run down _ but Poppe wanted to place the emphasis on the players’ experience too.

“We put a lot of time and effort into the playing conditions,” Poppe said, “and I have not heard one complaint. And that’s the most important thing.”

The only issue that has come up is the placement of fencing above the yellow line on the outfield wall. Florida’s Brian Johnson hit a ball Saturday that struck the fence and bounced back onto the field. Johnson was held to a double, but the NCAA umpiring supervisor said after the game that the hit should have been ruled a home run.

Texas coach Augie Garrido said the fencing atop the wall _ in place to diminish the opportunity for fans to interfere _ “creates confusion.”

Creighton hosted 18 games at the stadium before the CWS, and Poppe relied on Bluejays coach Ed Servais to point out any flaws.

“They fixed a bad spot on the infield dirt near third base,” Poppe said, “and corrected a lighting issue that affected balls hit to left field.”

Players have given the surface high marks, and there didn’t appear to be many bad hops.

Poppe said fans seem to be embracing the stadium. He said two longtime season ticket-holders made an interesting comment to him.

“They looked up and said, ‘Mr. Poppe, we came up here just wanting to hate this stadium, but it’s pretty nice.’”

Poppe understands why some fans might feel the same way after Rosenblatt Stadium was the home for the CWS from 1950 until last year.

“I have a lot of fond memories and love Rosenblatt,” Poppe said, “but I’m very quickly having an affinity for this place. I think it’s an appropriate place for college baseball.”

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GOING, GOING, GONE: Home runs have been at a premium so far. Entering Thursday, six had been hit through the first nine games. The toned-down bats in use in college baseball this season have played a role, but so have the conditions.

The wind started blowing out Wednesday, and Vanderbilt hit two homers in its 5-1 win over North Carolina. Vanderbilt has three of the six homers at the CWS, two by Connor Harrell and one by Curt Casali.

A gentle breeze also was blowing out for Thursday’s Virginia-California game.

Casali said he wasn’t thinking about the long ball during batting practice.

“If you put those good swings on the ball,” he said, “the ball’s going to fly regardless if the wind’s blowing or not. Fortunately (Wednesday), Connor and I got some good pitches to hit. We put flat swings on the ball and just let the wind do the rest.”

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ROSENBLATT AUCTION: More than 150 people turned out at Rosenblatt Stadium, and another 700 participated online, for a Thursday auction of about 800 fixtures and memorabilia from the former home of the College World Series.

Someone paid $7,500 for an American flag that had flown over the stadium. Another buyer shelled out $7,000 for a large “Rosenblatt Stadium” sign that hung over the entrance.

Also auctioned were sets of two wooden seats from the original grandstand, built in 1948. Those fetched $600-$700.

A foundation supporting the Omaha zoo bought the stadium property for $12 million. The foundation plans to use money raised from the auction to help pay for a zoo expansion project on the site.

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EXTRA BASES: Attendance after nine games was 197,310, an average of 21,923. Last year’s total at a comparable point was 191,143 (21,238)… The 1991 Creighton University team was honored before Thursday’s game. The ‘91 Bluejays became the first true home team in the CWS. The Creighton campus is blocks away from TD Ameritrade Park… Six of the first nine games were played in under 3 hours, and the average game time 2:58.

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