Baseball fans in Omaha will be celebrating the College World Series a little differently this year, with the exclusion of some events that would normally occur.
In a typical year, the College World Series would boast opening ceremonies, fireworks, autograph sessions and open practices. No such events will take place this year, due to plans having to revolve around the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19.
Anthony Holman, managing director of championships and alliances operations for the NCAA, said the decision to eliminate those events happened months ago. By the time it was announced on May 21 that 100% capacity would be allowed at TD Ameritrade Park, the decision couldn’t be reversed.
“When the timelines for those decisions had to be made, we weren’t where we are today in this country in terms of allowance for 100% capacity or the infection rates that have drastically declined and the mass distribution of vaccinations,” he said.
At the time, the NCAA decided not to have those events out of “an abundance of caution.”
Holman said that the NCAA wanted to focus on providing the best possible experience for the student-athletes and on creating a safe environment for everyone. COVID-19 forced the NCAA to cancel the College World Series in 2020.
“We’ve been able to do the championships on a large scale without massive outbreaks,” he said. “We thought the most responsible thing to do is to celebrate the opportunity that we have to be able to play again but not to test fate. Let’s continue to have the country get back to normal, without having our event be a potential superspreader.”
The decision to allow 100% capacity at the stadium was somewhat of a joint call. The NCAA Medical Advisory Group said those decisions should be left up to state and local health authorities. With no local or state restrictions in place, the NCAA was able to move forward with full capacity.
Fans will have other options for celebrations. The stadium’s parking lots will be open and tailgating will be permitted. Vendors will also be in and around the ballpark.
“We’re not having a full-fledged Fan Fest like we’ve had in the past, but there will be activations by some of our corporate partners, just to a smaller degree, around the stadium campus,” Holman said.
There will also be a special presentation on Saturday celebrating Juneteenth that will bring awareness to the holiday and other social issues that Holman said are important to both the NCAA and student-athletes.
“We will have sort of a closing celebration, if you will, at the end of the championship that will include some elements that hopefully fans will appreciate,” he said.
Fans will also have the opportunity to celebrate at locations surrounding the park.
The Slowdown, an entertainment venue across from the stadium, will be hosting a 2021 College Baseball Party from June 18 to 26. The event has no cover fee and is outdoors in the beer garden. All those 21 and older are welcome.
The Old Mattress Factory Bar and Grill will return to hosting the Omaha Baseball Village in its parking lot. There will be live music, activities, food and drinks as well as TVs playing the games. All ages are welcome until 9 p.m., then it will remain open until 2 a.m. for those who are 21 and older.
“We are really, really just excited about being able to play baseball again, and we’ve seen at our regionals and super-regionals that fans are excited about having an opportunity to get back in the ballpark and to watch the game,” Holman said. “We don’t look at it as what we’ve lost; we’re looking at it as what we’re able to gain that we didn’t have a year ago.”
The first game of the College World Series will be played on Saturday. Tickets for the games are still available for purchase.