Thursday, June 22, 2006

Back to reality. After flying to Omaha on a charter jet, most of the Titans bore Boarding Pass B's on Thursday afternoon and crammed themselves into a Southwest Airlines 737 bound for Ontario via Las Vegas. Reality hits hard. Another part of the group flew another Southwest flight (delayed 1:40) via Phoenix and several more took a United flight via Denver. Such is the life of the eliminated. At least some of them got to visit with Cal Ripken, Jr., in the Omaha airport.

The final night in Omaha turned into a celebration of sorts. Certainly not a victory party, but a last "fling" with teammates they will seldom see again. To a man, the Titans seemed content with their fate... close but no trophy. They gave it their all and seemingly have accepted the fact that only one team comes homes from Omaha fully rewarded for their year-long efforts.

A team meeting at noon on Friday will wrap up the 2006 Titans. Summer playing plans, housing switches, professional contract negotiations and heart-to-heart talks about players' prospects for 2007 will replace Report Time, Stretching and Batting Practice on the itinerary.

More reality. Goodwin Field is the summer home of the Fullerton Flyers of the Golden League and has a different look than it does when the Titans play. And the locker rooms in Titan Gym are under renovation -- can you feel the viiiibraaaatiiiiiooooon from the jackhammers, too?

Thanks to Omaha for another memorable trip. Thanks to Leroy Sweatlund and the Omaha Rotary club for their great assistance. Hauling all the luggage and equipment was a major chore in itself. Thanks to the NCAA for the continued opportunity to host Regionals and Super Regionals. And thanks to ESPN for giving Cal State Fullerton its 15 minutes plus about 16 hours in the spotlight.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

If Kevin Costner was scripting the ninth inning Wednesday, Danny Dorn would have hit the ball 10 feet less and David Cooper would have driven it 10 feet further for a dramatic game-winning 2-run home run.

But reality intervened and Dorn's liner carried to the centerfielder and Cooper's ball was caught up against the wall. And when pinch-hitter Bryan Harris grounded out against ace turned closer Andrew Miller, the Titans' storybook run through the 2006 College World Series was over.

Four games, four nailbiters. The Titans scored 24 runs and gave up 24 runs. They won a 2-run game and lost a 2-run game. They won a 1-run game and lost a 1-run game. They got a fortuitous bounce on Cory Vanderhook's chopper and an unlucky hop on Blake Davis' bunt. Would the availability of All-American closer Vinnie Pestano have made a difference? In his absence, the bullpen was masterful, particularly Ryan Paul and Adam Jorgenson.

Coach George Horton got emotional addressing the team in the locker room after the game. His sadness was not about the defeat but about the loss of a roster - graduation and the professional draft breaks up every college team come May or June. He knew his team had not played a perfect series but a courageous one and he exhorted the players to keep their heads up high as they exited the stadium for the final time.

The most gnawing memories will revolve around two late-game situations against North Carolina. On Friday night, the Titans had the winning run on third base with one out in the eleventh inning but couldn't score. On Wednesday night, they had the tying run on third base with one out in the eighth but Davis' squeeze bunt took a convenient hop for the pitcher and the run was cut down at the plate.

The starting rotation that carried the Titans to Omaha was roughed up for all 24 runs allowed, 22 of them in starter's roles. Explanation? More quality hitters. Better lighting. Too many mistakes. Better scouting reports because of extensive ESPN post-season coverage. End of season fatigure. Playing from behind. Wind usually blowing out. Combination of all of the above?

The bottom line is that Cal State Fullerton reached the Final Four, eliminating a pair of BCS Atlantic Coast Conference schools in the process. The Omaha experience was absorbed by 25 eligible players and a few extras as well. Unless they reach the major leagues, none of these players will ever perform on a more inspiring stage. The agony of defeat will soon subside.

And the "Titan Nation" that assembled almost 2,000 miles from campus gained a major boost of "Titan Pride."

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Former Titan All-American and 1979 Golden Spikes Award winner Tim Wallach was in the Rosenblatt Stadium crowd Wednesday night. Typically, he stayed out of the limelight, sitting in the left-field bleachers with his Little League team.

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The Titans' official travel party will arrive Thursday at 7:25 p.m. at Ontario Airport on Southwest Airlines flight No. 1764 from Las Vegas. The extended travel party will come in via Phoenix at 5:30 p.m. on Southwest flight No. 1335.

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Freshman David Cooper joined some select company with his streak of seven consecutive hits in the College World Series. The only better mark is 8 in a row by Dave Magadan of Alabama and Barry Bonds of Arizona State. The only other 7 at-bat streak was logged by Terry Francona of Arizona.

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Amazing statistic: There have been 837 games played in the College World Series through Wednesday night. The home team has won 419 of them to 418 for the visitors. This year the Titans went 2-0 as the visitors and 0-2 as the home team.

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Although average attendance has been down slightly, the total will likely set a CWS record. The move to single sessions on Sunday and Monday from doubleheaders in the past gave the CWS eight gates for the first eight games instead of six. Do the math. Wednesday's doubleheader session drew a record 30, 335 to a park that holds 23,170, thanks to general admission fans leaving after the first game and the sale of some standing room only tickets. Reserved tickets were up this year to $18 for the bracket play and $25 for the Championship Series, a one dollar increase in both categories.

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The Omaha World-Herald ran a front-page story examining the increased hotel room rates for the College World Series period. Most travelers were resigned to good old capitalism - supply and demand. It's normal lodging practice to bump up the rates for special events such as bowl games, conventions, etc. Quoted in the story were the parents of Titan pitcher Cory Arbiso, who spent several nights in Lincoln, an hour's drive to the southwest, for more competitive rates before finding an affordable alternative in Omaha.

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Did the laundry. At least we're coming home with mostly clean clothes.

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Until next time.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Time to open up the Titan history books in preparation for Wednesday's rematch with North Carolina in this 60th College World Series. It's almost eerie the parallels developing as the Titans try to fight back through the losers' bracket to gain the Championship Series against either Rice or Oregon State.

To advance beyond the Final Four, the Titans will likely need a special effort from righthanded pitcher Wes Roemer, who got the final two outs Tuesday night for his first save of the season. For inspiration, he can look to Dave Weatherman, another righthander. In the 1979 College World Series, Weatherman started the next to last game against Pepperdine. He lasted only one third of an inning but the Titans rallied to eliminate the Waves, 8-5. Coach Augie Garrido gave him another chance the very next night and Weatherman pitched a complete-game 2-1 victory over Arkansas for the school's first national championship.

In that win over Pepperdine, the Titans got five hits from outfielder Mickey Palmer, who was in the lineup more for his defensive prowess in then caverness Rosenblatt Stadium. Palmer went 5-for-6 and freshman David Cooper joined him last night as two of the 15 players in CWS history to collect 5 or more hits in one game.

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Barbecue Notes: John Estes' father pulled his barbecue trailer from the Seattle area to Omaha for use at the Titan House. The charcoal was donated and delivered by Jody Robinson, the former Titan player and assistant coach who now lives in the Midwest. Add superstitions: win or lose, the Titan players were scheduled to eat at the Titan House after Sunday night's game vs. Georgia Tech. Since they won, the plan was repeated for after the Clemson game. Need I tell you what the plan is for Wednesday night's post-game spread?

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Random statistics... the Titans have led for only 5 innings in their three games and 31 innings of play so far... in allowing 18 runs in three games, the Titans allowed more than that only once all season - in May, they gave up 5 runs at UC Santa Barbara, 6 at USC and 9 at San Diego State in consecutive games...David Cooper is 7-for-11 in his first CWS... Justin Turner collected his 100th hit of the season in the first inning... Adam Jorgenson has appeared in all three games, pitching three innings with no runs and two hits allowed. He has inherited five runners and none have scored. Ryan Paul has pitched four scoreless innings over three appearances... at 50-14, the Titans have logged the eighth 50-win season in the program's Div. I history.

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Geography lesson for the day: When the CWS started, there were two West Coast teams and four Atlantic Coast Conference teams. In the Final Four, there still are two West Coast teams but only North Carolina representing the ACC. The fourth team is from the WESTern Athletic Conference -- Rice. Clemson has now been in more CWS without reaching the finals than any other program.

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The Titans will be the home team, wear white and occupy the third-base dugout on Wednesday evening.

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The Titans continue to make marks in the CWS record book. They now are part of the second longest by time game in the CWS history and the third longest by time 9-inning game. Way to extend that national TV coverage guys!

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Time to do some laundry.


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Monday, June 19, 2006

Today was a day off for virtually everyone associated with the Cal State Fullerton baseball program. The team got to sleep in, had a light practice at Bellevue East High School and then enjoyed free time in the evening with friends and family and, in most cases, Omaha beef.

Photographer Matt Brown and baseball SID Mike Greenlee completed a two-night test and they rate the T-bone steak at Casio's superior to that of Johnny's Cafe. Those are the two most established steakhouses in a town that has one on almost every corner. There's plenty of new competiton arising out west where Omaha is seemingly booming. Boys Town used to be in the fields at the west end of Dodge Street. Now there are several more offramps behond it on what has become the Highway 6 Freeway west of the 480.

My favorite establishment feturing beef -- the Pink Poodle, across the river in Crescent, Iowa, is closed on Mondays. Bummer! And we already did the catfish at Surfside on the Missouri River north of town. That's overall No. 1 in my book.

The weather forecast for Tuesday is very hot and chances of thunderstorms... again. So far, only the Saturday night game has been affected by the weather and that was mostly because of lightning.

Attendance is down sightly this year. Most folks attribute that to the absence of perennial visitors Texas and LSU, who bring a lot of traveling fans and also have won over a lot of Nebraskans. Clemson and Rice T-shirts have been cited as the best sellers this year.

With North Carolina and Rice the only unbeaten teams after four days, they are the heavy favorites to meet in the Championship Series. Both are loaded with highly rated professional pitching prospects and both will be well rested against the elimination game survivors. But count on the latter showing up anyway.

Political note: Former President Gerald Ford was born in Omaha and there is a birthplace monument and rose garden on the site of his family's home (the actual house burned down a couple of decades ago). It was dedicated in the early 1980s and it looks like the maintenance was stopped not long after. The site at 32nd Street and Woolworth is an embarrassment to every American, no matter what your political persuasion might be. To visit the museum you have to do it by appointment. Obviously, funding is the problem. With former President Ford in declining health, it will be interesting to see what becomes of this historical site.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

"So close... oh, so close."

For more than three hours Sunday afternoon, it looked like that would be the Titans' epitaph for the 2006 College World Series. They had come so close to winning on Friday night vs. North Carolina and they were looking at a 1-run eliminating loss to Georgia Tech on Sunday.

Not much had gone their way. A fan may have interfered with Danny Dorn on a go-ahead home run. Dorn came close to an RBI single in what could have been a big fourth inning only to see it turned into a double play. All the close calls by the umpires seemed to go against Fullerton - a pickoff play at second and a foul tip strikeout of Justin Turner in the eighth. Dustin Miller wasn't missing the strike zone in the first inning by that much. A comebacker by Evan McArthur went from an RBI single to a rundown of Brandon Tripp by a matter of inches.

All that was forgotten when dame fortune smiled in Fullerton's favor in the ninth inning. Cory Vanderhook's chopper eluded the Georgia Tech infield and the Titans, who were down to their last strike with Brett Pill at the plate, kept themselves away from Eppley Field Airport for at least two more days.

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The omens were not aligning in Fullerton's favor. Only once before in College World Series history had a player been a catcher and a pitcher in the same game. The first time was on June 4, 1990, when Gettys Glaze went from behind the plate to the mound as The Citadel eliminated Fullerton, 8-7, in 12 innings. That was the last time the Titans had gone 0-2 in Omaha.

(In case you are wondering, a Gettys Glaze shows up on an internet search as an owner/broker of Sandpiper Real Estate Group in Charleston, South Carolina. He was probably sitting on an open house watching the game and seeing his name brought up probably for the first time in 16 years.)

And George Horton had failed to park in his normal parking place back at Byrnes Circle. Attempts to move the car also failed since all the keys were with family members in Omaha. Should we call a tow truck?

Countering that bad vibe was a security guard named Justin - he had guarded the dugout of the winning team in each of the Rosenblatt Stadium contests to date. Not that baseball coaches, players and fans are superstitious, but a collection is being taken to make sure he is in the Titans' dugout on Tuesday.

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Tough assignment for the sportswriters Sunday. So much to write and too little space. The storylines were too plentiful. Redemption -- Cory Vanderhook atoning for his baserunning blunder on Friday and Brett Pill atoning for his rare fielding error that gave Georgia Tech its fourth run. Clark Hardman singling home the game-tying run on the first Father's Day since his father, Randy, was diagnosed with leukemia. And Dustin Miller returning to Omaha for the first time since 2003 and since surgeries that cost him two collegiate seasons. Should Coach Rick Vanderhook have tried to score Blake Davis on Pill's double? Did the ball really hit Justin Turner's bat on his eighth-inning strikeout. Did the fan interfere with Danny Dorn on the go-ahead GT home run? How good is Ryan Paul, filling in for closer Vinnie Pestano? What's next for the Titan pitching rotation, especially since Lauren Gagnier has been weakened by a bout of food poisoning (that's the reason day-old ground beef pizza is not on the training table).

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Fullerton is now only 3-10 in games this season in which it was trailing going into the ninth inning. In each of those wins, Brett Pill was in the middle of the rally. At UC Santa Barbara on May 7, he had a two-out, two-run triple in a 3-run ninth for a 7-5 victory (sound familiar?). On May 23 his two-out triple in the ninth tied a game at USC that the Titans won in the 11th inning, 6-3. And then Sunday, when he took the season down to the final strike before slashing a drive into right center field.

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Saturday, June 17...

Most of the "day after" for the Tians was spent trying to flush away the lingering memories of Friday night's frustrating marathon. Dr. Ken Ravizza, the team's mental coach, was the focal point for the team and the mental aspect was on the minds of the media as well.

Coach George Horton spent most of his pre-game production meeting with the ESPN folks not talking about how Dustin Miller would match up against Georgia Tech or how he might tinker with his batting order against a righthander. The questions were about the mental state - how do you handle a devastating loss, how do you deal with the prospect of an elimination game or how do you handle the pressure applied by 23,000 fans and a national TV audience?

Soon after that conversation ended, reporters from the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register visited the practice site at Bellevue East High School and asked basically the same questions. Is there really a miniature toilet in the dugout?

The importance of the mental game in the Fullerton program cannot be overestimated. Coach Horton spent nearly half an hour talking to the team even before they got off the bus for Saturday's practice. Dr.Ravizza shared time in the presentation to try to clean everyone's mind for the task at hand - send Georgia Tech home as the Yellowjackets did to the Titans in 1994. Ravizza symbolically wore a Titans' hat from the 1984 CWS, when the Titans came out of the losers' bracket to win it all. Coach Horton emphasized that responding to failure and getting back up when you are knocked down are at the forefront of the philosophy of the program.

The casual visitor could not tell the Titans' season was in jeopardy. The practice was all business but light and spirited. Several of the shaggers in right field were busy between swings re-enacting their reactions seen on TV to plays such as Jared Clark's 3-run home run. The players watch the replays and hear from friends on cell phones and know when they get TV time.

Capping the light nature of the session, the Titans' coaching staff first let all of the pitchers take batting practice swings and then challenged them to a contest in the bunting game. With Ted Silva on the mound, Jason Gill at first baseand RickVanderhook donning the "tools of ignorance" to go behind the plate, the coaches challenged the players to a bunting competiton. The players got a point when they successfully bunted and the coaches scored when the bunt play went awry. Fortunately, the players won.

Even baseball SID Mike Greenlee got into the practice act. The former Titans' righthander from 1996 and 1997 performed a set of "three ways," fielding his position on the mound from a variety of positions with practiced efficiency if not the old agility. He was on the verge of tossing some batting practice before deciding that his next slider might be his last.

The end to the practice session produced a scene typical of the Nebraska hospitality. Bellevue resident Marilyn Ralston provided the players with ice-cold Gatorade. "It's something I've been doing for the teams here for about 10 years," she explained humbly while taking advantage of the situation to get a ball autographed. "I'd like to keep a low profile."

After practice the Titans hustled back to their westside Marriott Hotel and then headed for a country club for a Bar B Q and golf outing sponsored by the host Rotary Club.

Family and friends gained the dinner time focus for those who chose not to attend the Miami-Oregon State game, which went to the Hurricanes in an 11-1 rout. The erratic Omaha weather reared its head and produced a lengthy delay.

Friday, June 16...

Thirteen was the Titans' lucky number in 2004, when they won the College World Series title. 13th NCAA trip in a row, 13th trip to Omaha, 13th win for Jason Windsor, etc. This season, those digits have lived down to their evil reputation. Instead of emerging with a 13-game winning streak, the Titans came out of Rosenblatt Stadium Friday night with a 13-inning defeat.

Despite Fullerton's tremendous success in Omaha over the years, extra innings have not been part of the formula. After Friday night the Titans are now 0-5 in extra innings compared to 32-17 in 9-inning affairs.

The unfortunate trend began in 1990, the year Rich Gonzales hit the outfield wall and the wall won. A lightly regarded The Citadel team eliminated Fullerton with a 12-inning, 8-7 defeat. That's the game that saw The Citadel's catcher move to the pitching mound to hurl 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. I forget the specific details, but as I recall the Titans squandered some good opportunities to win that one.

Equally frustrating was the next extra-inning loss -- a 3-2 decision to Georgia Tech in 1994. Nomar Garciaparra put the Yellowjackets ahead with a solo home run off reliever Ted Silva. Dante Powell got to third base with no outs in the bottom half of the inning but the Titans couldn't advance him another 90 feet.

Then came the Stanford heartbreakers. In 2001, Chad Cordero pitched out of a ninth-inning jam only to surrender 3 runs in a 5-2 loss in 10 innings. Two years later Stanford haunted Cordero again. Jonny Ash hit the first home run of his career to forge a seventh-inning tie and Danny Putnam took Darric Merrill deep in the tenth with a 2-run shot for a 7-5 (there's that score again) Stanford win that sent the Titans home.

Erratic bunting and some careless base running negated some decent pitching and excellent defense Friday night. It was a tired team that nibbled at its spaghetti and pizza feed back at the Omaha Marriott. We'll see what a day off on Saturday does to rejuvenate the Titans.

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GPA. Simple anagram, right? Not so simple Thursday night. Titan baseball was left somewhat embarrassed and chagrinned when erroneous numbers were announced for the new academic awards added to the Opening Ceremonies. Put an "E - Academic Services" up on the scoreboard.

Reserve infielder Joe Scott was introduced to the crowd estimated at 19,000 and saluted here as the Titans' leading baseball scholar. Well, Joe does well, but he's only about tenth best on the team. Bryan Harris should have been the honoree with his overall 3.57 grade point average. Clerical mistake that has been corrected, but not before 19,000 fans.

And you wonder why people are dismayed at the complexity of NCAA rules? GPAs and normal progress have been joined by graduation rates and, more recently, Academic Performance Reports as "catchwords" for academic integrity among intercollegiate athletics. The intention is good and most of the rules were written to prevent a reoccurrence of abuses perpetrated in the past. But the more rules are written, the more the important ones are lost among the minutiae.

Not related to academics, but try this interpretation: injured pitcher Vinnie Pestano can legally serve as a color commentator on the Titans' internet audio coverage. However, he cannot read commercial copy since that could be construed as an endorsement. He's allowed in the press box but parents are not allowed in press boxes in any sport because it's a special privilege not afforded to "normal" students or their parents. Titan fans were among those reminded on the eve of NCAA Playoffs not to offer any kind of assistance to the families of players, even, or especially, to those who can't afford the trip to watch their son play on the biggest stage of his life. Doesn't seem fair or right, does it?

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Saturday's schedule: Practice at 10 a.m. at Bellevue East High School followed by BarBQ and golf contest outing with the sponsoring Rotary Club. Then it's free time for the first time since the airport busses rolled up to Goodwin Field on Wednesday morning.

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So much for the understandably hyped pitchers' duel between the Titans' Wes Roemer and North Carolina's Andrew Miller. After two innings, Roemer had given up twice as many runs as his earned run average for a game as well as two home runs in the same contest for the first time in his Titan career. And Miller allowed a long RBI double by lefthanded batter Danny Dorn and only the second home run of his season to Evan McArthur.

Roemer was the first to settle down, retiring nine in a row after the 2-run homer in the second. Meanwhile, the Titans went out of character - using a 3-run home run from Jared Clark (and only the third off the future Detroit Tiger)-- to take the lead. From there the pitchers' duel finally developed with the bullpens deciding the contest.

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Thursday, June 15...

Let's play ball!

After a non-stop day of meetings and press conferences and autograph sessions and opening ceremonies and a little bit of baseball practice mixed in, it's time for the 2006 College World Series to begin.

Tickets, always hard to find, are extremely tough this year thanks in part to the outstanding pitching matchup on Friday night between Cal State Fullerton's Wes Roemer and North Carolina's Andrew Miller. Some veteran college baseball writers are calling it the marquee matchup of the decade. You know Roemer's feats -- co-national player of the year by Collegiate Baseball... two gutty post-season wins... six walks all season... 13-1 record, etc. Yet Miller is rated by many the best pitcher in the nation. He was the sixth player taken in the professional draft (by Detroit) and at 6-foot-6, the lefthander strikes an imposing presence on the mound.

But knowing the unpredictability of baseball, don't be shocked if the expected pitchers' duel doesn't develop. There are many possibilities but the best one is the weather.. all day Friday the wind was blowing out to left and left center field. That was after the morning lightning show and subsequent squall that washed the first two teams off the Rosenblatt Stadium practice schedule.

How big is the love affair between Omaha and the College World Series? Thousands of fans showed up Thursday to watch six of the teams take a 50-minute practice session and then sign autographs for 45 minutes (all eight squads got to do the signing under the grandstands for people who really don't know who these players are!). Out of sight were the mandatory meetings with the FBI agents (they weren't very difficult to identify in their dark suits and white shirts on the humid afternoon) who graphically warn the players and coaches about the realities of the gambling world. Former Washngton Coach Rick Neuheisel's situation is this year's example of trouble.

The real shocker of the day, other than the overwhelming sight of ESPN's 75-man crew assembled in the press dining room, came after 5 p.m. local time when Miami completed the teams' practice sessions. Even though the Opening Ceremonies would not start until after 8:30 p.m., the stadium never emptied. Hundreds of fans remained with only the grounds crew to entertain them. Seriously, almost a thousand people watched them mow the grass for more than an hour. And then set up about 300 chairs and a giant replica of the NCAA Trophy and a podium. That was about it for live entertainment. The video board showed highlights including the greatest defensive plays of f-the 1990 CWS (Rich Gonzales knocking himself out against the left-field fence didn't make the cut. Of course, the concession stands were open and the locals know their way around the Krispy Kreme booth and the Frostie Malt machine and the popcorn and traditional hot dogs. And parking is so difficult that it isn't worth going home and returning. Even Omaha has a rush hour. But to watch them mow the grass? That's entertainment, midwest style. How could they ever take this event out of Omaha?

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Note to tourists. Have patience at CWS time in Omaha. Especially if you need emergency motor vehicle service. AAA here in mid-June stands for "almost always available." We found out the hard way. Seems as if one of our party, who shall remain nameless but you can hear him on the internet, left the courtesy car keys "somewhere in somebody's room." After 45 minutes of futile searching this morning it was time for Plan B and the use of someone else's car. Which set off a chain of dominoes that affected the entire day.

"Anything locked up in the car you need?" No, just 250 media guides and 250 post-season note packets plus the parking passes.

"They must have a set of backup keys?" Yes, but they are in Indianapolis.

"Where's the paperwork?" In the car, of course.

"Isn't there a press conference today at 2 p.m.?" Yes... but why would we want to supply the media with accurate facts.. let them make stuff up.

Bad idea. But so was calling for help. It took two hours for someone to show up and then about two seconds to pop open the door and trigger the trunk lid.

Meanwhile, ticket manager Jenn McGhen and her weekend assistant, Dara Fielden, were due at the stadium for a 1 p.m. meeting and ticket distribution. Problem? No, not with Omaha hospitality. Leroy Sweatlund of the sponsoring Rotary Club drove to the rescue and delivered the ticket ladies to the stadium and then drove Associate Athletic Director Steve DiTolla to the airport to get a replacement vehicle. Of course, that almost made Steve late for the 3:30 p.m. mandatory competition meeting that followed the press conference.

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By supper time everyone had caught up to schedule and was able to enjoy the team Bar B Q dinner under the Big Top in Parking Lot 1 (maybe the space could be better utilized for parking?) Whatever they feed the livestock around here should be trucked west. Brisket and ribs and chicken and all the fixins and then tables of dessert featuring strawberries and a chocolate fountain. Why eat hot dogs? Somewhere outside the tent was a free concert for the locals by Yellowcard (how did soccer get in the mix?). Ocean Avenue is their hit song, so I'm told. Now if it was Oceanfront Property by George Strait, I would be a little more enthused.

We digress. At last came the Opening Ceremonies with Olympic style introduction of the eight teams accompanied by video highlights from the Regionals and Super Regionals displayed on the new $something million video board in left field. R. J. Vanderhook, young son of the Titan coach Rick Vanderhook and cousin to catcher Cory, led the Fullerton contingent in from the left field gate (well, after photographer Matt Brown's back side) and down the warning track to their seats on the first-base side. In between the welcoming speeches and congratulatory wishes were awards to the player with the best grade point average on each squad. Infielder Joe Scott took honors for the Titans. The grand finale was a Fireworks Show that outdoes Disneyland. But the real show is on 13th Street and the I-80 Freeway. People on 13th Street stopped in traffic lanes to watch the sky light up. And motorists even pulled off to the freeway shoulder to get a better view.

The main grandstand was full of local fans as well as the arriving caravans from points east, south and west who proudly display allegiance to the various teams. The tourists are easy to spot by the new regional and super regional T-shirts and beads and headbands and towels and anything else upon which the merchants of 13th Street can stencil, print or embroider the College World Series logo or that of the eight schools.

Sadly, commercialism has blunted the exposure of this year's Titan House, the rented rallying spot for Titan fans. The owner also rented the front lawn to a vendor whose tent came in about double the expected size and obliterated the blue and orange signs.

In the dugout the only news is that relief pitcher Vinnie Pestano is here, but not on the 25-man playing roster. The Titans' All-American closer was planning to be a color commentator on the internet audio but for some reason jumped at the chance to be one of the non-uniformed personnel in the dugout.

And always the weather concerns: ABC affiliate's forecast is 90 degrees and 20 percent chance of thunderstorms for the first game (Clemson vs. Georgia Tech) and 83 degrees and 50 percent chance of thunderstorms for the Titans and Tarheels. Where's that umbrella?

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Wednesday, June 14...

Via the port side of ExtraAirways 737-400 Charter jet, the Titans traveled from Fullerton to Omaha on Wednesday. It's the 14th trip to the College World Series for the program but only the second time via charter plane. In 2004, the Titans stopped in Tucson and picked up the University of Arizona, which was in the other bracket. This time, Oregon State had to show patience, as the Beavers flew down from Oregon to Ontario, concentrated on the starboard side of the aisle and waited about an hour while the Titans past through minimal security and loaded a TON of baggage. The Cincinnati-based plane got everyone and everything to Eppley Field in Omaha, where it was 91 degrees and humid according to the bus driver, Mike, who has been the Titans' seemingly private chaffeur several trips in a row.

The Omaha Marriott, on the west side of town and a favorite of past Titan teams -- both the 1984 and 1995 championship teams stayed here -- welcomed a slightly travel weary party of 63 (counting a few fans) with open arms (and cash registers).

The College World Series is BIG business in Omaha, which is a large corporate center for the Midwest, particularly in the agricultural fields. (Is that a redundant statement -- agricultural fields?). Banners and signs cover the metropolitan area of more than half a million and the citizens bend over backwards to show their midwestern hospitality. The restaurants and pubs of downtown Omaha do brisk business these two weeks, but nothing like the percentage of annual income the souvenir shops, concession stands and memorabilia stores around Rosenblatt Stadium do. Seemingly there is a new shipment of T-shirts on 13th Street every five minutes -- bolder, brighter and more clever than the one you just plunked down $25 to take home.

It's a whirlwind first day on Thursday for the teams. Here's the Titans' schedule:

7:40 a.m. - wake up call

8:10 a.m. - team breakfast

9:05 a.m. - report time, ready to go

10:00 a.m. - team photo upon arrival at Rosenblatt Stadium and ESPN interviews

11:00 a.m. - practice on Rosenblatt diamond

Noon - gambling presentation by the FBI (serious business)

12:30 p.m. - autograph session for the local fans

1:15 p.m. - depart for hotel

2:00 p.m. - optional batting practice at remote site

6:15 p.m. - report time, ready to go back to stadium

7:00 p.m. - team BBQ dinner at Rosenblatt Stadium

8:30 p.m. - opening ceremonies, concert and fireworks

10:00 p.m. - get some rest and keep hydrated!

In addition, there's a sports information breakfast meeting, a ticket managers' meeting, Coach George Horton has a 2 p.m. press conference, there's a competition meeting for all eight teams' administration. Oh yeah, and be sure to pick up your credentials at a downtown hotel!

We'll try to keep you posted!