Major League Baseball players made history Thursday night during the first MLB game ever held in Nebraska.
Over 24,400 fans packed TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to see the Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers 7–3. The game was a kickoff to the College World Series.
For some MLB players, the trip was more than a game—it was a trip down memory lane.
Tigers shortstop Gordan Beckman was part of Georgia’s team that made it to the CWS when he was a freshman in 2006 and when he was a junior in ’08.
“To play here and then come back to kick off the World Series, it’s come full circle,” Beckman said.
When Beckman played at the CWS, it was held at Rosenblatt Stadium, the tournament’s home from 1950 to 2010, which has since been demolished.
Royals rightfielder Whit Merrifield got the last hit at Rosenblatt. It was the bottom of the 11th inning in the second game of the 2010 championship series, and his South Carolina Gamecocks had a runner on third. Merrifield had a base hit to right to win the school’s first NCAA baseball title.
“It’s still probably, even [now that I’m] in the big leagues, my favorite memory of baseball because it was a big moment for our community,” Merrifield said.
Royals manager Ned Yost recommends that baseball fans look up Merrifield’s play online. “I’ve watched it eight or 10 times myself; it’s pretty cool,” Yost said with a smile.
The only player to have home runs at both Rosenblatt and TD Ameritrade is Detroit first baseman John Hicks (below). He was playing for Virginia, which made it to CWS when he was a freshman in 2009, and a junior in ’11.
Hicks said Thursday’s game was a chance for MLB players to make history. “Hopefully there will be a lot of firsts here tonight—the first big leaguer to hit a home run here,” Hicks said.
That big leaguer was Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez, whose home run was also his first major league round-tripper. He played at TD Ameritrade while playing for Creighton. The home run landed in the “exact same spot” as his last college home run at that stadium, Lopez said.
It felt good to get the first home run, but Lopez said he was even happier that the Royals won the game. “That was the most important thing,” he said.
For Tigers infielder Brandon Dixon, playing in Omaha was a chance to tease his teammate Grayson Greiner about the outcome of the final game of the 2012 CWS.
Greiner was playing for South Carolina, and Dixon was playing for Arizona.
Dixon hit a tie-breaking double for the Wildcats in the ninth inning that won the game. “I try not to rip on him too much,” Dixon said with a mischievous smile. “It’s a sore subject, but I occasionally bring up.”
Greiner (below) said hearing about that game is the downside of returning to Omaha. “The only bad thing about this trip is having to hear all these questions about losing the national championship to Brandon,” he said.
Royals leftfielder Alex Gordon sat out Thursday’s game after being hit by a pitch on Wednesday. He said he fondly remembers playing for the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the 2005 CWS.
“The fan support was amazing,” Gordan said. “They made us feel like rock stars in college.”
The first game of the 2019 CWS will be on Saturday. The eight teams who made CWS were in attendance at the MLB game.
Michigan is one of those teams. Wolverines outfielder Jordan Nwogu grew up in Ann Arbor as a Tigers fan. The sophomore said he was excited to see his favorite team take the same field that he will be playing on.
Nwogu wants to encourage kids playing ball to keep working hard, even if they don’t get a college scholarship or a lot of media attention.
“Never give up,” Nwogu said. “I walked on, so anything is possible.”
Top photograph by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images