OMAHA, Neb. (MCT) - Attendance is running ahead of last year's record pace. Souvenir stands are stuffed. Steakburger prices didn't rise. In many ways, Rosenblatt Stadium never seemed more of an ideal setting for the College World Series, which continues this week.
But all is not peaceful in college baseball's Garden of Eden.
The future of Rosenblatt, the event's home since 1950, is uncertain. Stadium upgrades are needed, and the NCAA has concerns about the area surrounding the ballpark.
Some kind of change in venue seems certain, and Omaha has suggested two proposals: Make over Rosenblatt for about $25 million or incorporate a new stadium as part of a downtown renaissance for $50 million.
A third option is for the event to leave Omaha, but the NCAA hasn't reached the power-play stage yet.
"That option is probably not one that we're going to consider for a long time," said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA managing director for baseball and football.
Still, the idea of tinkering with the setting has unnerved some. Coaches don't want to leave the place many in the college baseball community call the Blatt.
"The stadium on the hill, we've all grown up with that vision in mind," said Cal State-Fullerton coach George Horton. "It would be sad to see it move from this piece of property."
Omaha has poured $35 million into stadium improvements over the last 15 years, but the city has been fighting to keep pace with the event's growth.
Rosenblatt Stadium and the area weren't originally constructed for the crowds that flock to the College World Series, often numbering more than 20,000 per game. Inside the structure, concourses are narrow, and dark exits quickly jam after a game.
But some of the more serious concerns are outside the ballpark. Parking is a challenge, and the NCAA isn't happy that 13th Street, which runs along the west side of the stadium, has become packed with makeshift beer gardens.
"I'm not sure that beer gardens are what we consider to be part of the College World Series atmosphere," Poppe said.
The Rosenblatt improvement plan calls for the city to buy homes and businesses along 13th Street and clear them for green space. During the World Series, the land could be rented to vendors, but it would be controlled by the city.
Also, the stadium's entrance would be reconfigured, which would mean moving Zesto's, the landmark ice-cream joint, a few blocks to the south.
Inside the stadium, locker rooms would be expanded. That's the biggest complaint from teams, according to the NCAA, though coaches are careful not to sound critical. They'd rather speak of the area's mystical charm.
"When we drove from the highway to 13th Street and I saw (Rosenblatt) again, I though my heart was going to jump through my chest," Horton said.
Would coaches and other Rosenblatt fans feel the same way about a downtown stadium?
"As long as they keep the name Rosenblatt so they'd make it feel like college baseball," said Mississippi State coach Ron Polk.
But a downtown stadium, like Rosenblatt, would have other tenants. The Omaha Royals have been seeking to play in a more intimate setting for several years. A new ballpark would include 8,000-9,000 permanent seats with the ability to add 15,000 temporary seats for the College World Series.
But the Royals, Kansas City's Class AAA affiliate, haven't been part of many conversations about possible change.
"We absolutely understand that the College World Series and Omaha are essential for each other, and we want to make sure Omaha does everything it can to retain the event," said Alan Stein, chief operating officer of Ivy Walls Management, the group that owns 50 percent of the O-Royals. "However, we haven't been involved in the initial stage of discussion of a joint-use facility."
Stein said his club would prefer a downtown stadium.
"It would be a jewel in that area," Stein said.
At a news conference before the series started last week, Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey didn't favor one proposal but said keeping the event in his city was the main objective.
"Rosenblatt has a long and storied history in Omaha and with the College World Series, so any decision will not be made lightly," Fahey said.
If a new stadium is built near the Qwest Center and Creighton University, Rosenblatt would be torn down, and the land probably would be used for expansion of the neighboring zoo.
Omaha's current contract with the College World Series runs through 2010. City officials want a 10-year commitment beyond that, but the NCAA has never granted more than a five-year deal. Poppe said the NCAA Division I baseball committee will make a recommendation on a contract late this year or early in 2008.
Meanwhile, the event billed as "the greatest show on dirt" continues in front of packed houses. Cal State-Fullerton plays today, and the Titans need a victory to stay alive and bring Horton back to what's become his favorite place.
Rosenblatt Stadium, Horton said, "is almost perfect."
(c) 2007, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.