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The Casual Fan's Guide to the College World Series

For the next two weeks, the distinctive ping of aluminum bat meeting ball returns to the grand stage. The 62nd College World Series begins Saturday at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska, with eight teams—the survivors of what began as a 64-team tournament—divided into two brackets vying for a national championship. A double-elimination format will decide the two bracket winners, who will play a best-of-three championship series beginning June 23. To make sure you're sufficiently prepared, here are answers to eight questions about the CWS.

When was the first College World Series?

California defeated Yale in the first College World Series, which was played at Hyames Field in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1947. The CWS returned to Kalamazoo in 1948, moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 1949, and has been played in Omaha since 1950. Omaha Municipal Stadium was renamed Rosenblatt Stadium in 1964 to honor mayor Johnny Rosenblatt's role in bringing baseball to the city, where more than 6 million fans have walked through the turnstiles at the CWS since 1950. While there was some speculation that the CWS might be on the move again in the near future, those concerns were put to rest earlier this week when the local organizing committee for the event signed a contract to keep the World Series in Omaha through 2035.

cws3.jpgWhat's that big dome beyond the right field bleachers of Rosenblatt Stadium?
That's the Desert Dome, an 84,000-square-foot geodesic dome that includes 1,760 glazed panels and would likely make Buckminster Fuller blush. The $31.5 million structure, which opened in 2002 as part of the Henry Doorly Zoo, features plant and animal life from three deserts: the Namib of Africa, the Red Center of Australia, and the Sonoran of the United States. A 55-foot mountain divides the three deserts in the dome, which is 13 stories tall, and two 20,000-gallon underground tanks collect rainwater. As for the chances of a player hitting a "dome run" during the CWS, well, it would take about a 600-foot blast.

Who are some of the greatest players to play in the CWS?
bonds-sundevils.jpgAmong the list of Most Outstanding Player recipients are such notables as Dave Winfield, Bob Horner, Terry Francona, Calvin Schiraldi and Pat Burrell. Several other players delivered memorable performances in Omaha. In 1965, Ohio State pitcher Steve Arlin compiled 20 strikeouts in a 15-inning shutout win over Washington State in an elimination game. Texas pitcher Roger Clemens anchored one of the most formidable starting rotations in CWS history in 1982, while Barry Bonds made two trips to the CWS with Arizona State and tied a tournament record with eight consecutive hits in 1984. Oklahoma State's Robin Ventura stretched his hitting streak to 57 games "“ one more than Joe Dimaggio's MLB record—in the first game of the 1987 CWS. And with his team trailing Miami 8-7 with two outs and a man on in the bottom of the ninth inning of the 1996 championship game, Warren Morris hit the most memorable home run in CWS history—his only home run of the season.

What about players who later made names for themselves outside of baseball?
george-bush-yale.jpgPerhaps you've heard that George H.W. Bush played in the first College World Series as first baseman for Yale. As team captain, he led Yale back to Kalamazoo in 1948, only to watch from the on-deck circle as Southern California clinched its first title with a game-ending triple play. Perhaps you didn't know that John Peterman—the catalog entrepreneur who operates the J. Peterman Company and who was the inspiration for the Seinfeld character Jacopo Peterman—also played in the College World Series. The real J. Peterman, who is not to be confused with the actor John O'Hurley (above), hit .450 for the 1962 Holy Cross team that won the CWS title and later played three seasons in the Pittsburgh Pirates' system.

Why do so many players stand outside of the dugout?
Watch any CWS game and you're unlikely to see many players sitting in the Rosenblatt Stadium dugouts. Instead, teams generally stand as close to the field as they are allowed, providing the ideal location to see and be seen. There's generally as much action on the top step of each dugout as there is on the field, with players engaging in team-specific dugout rituals (see the video below) and chatter. One of the most common rituals involves "deuces," the term used to describe the situation when there are two balls, two strikes, and two outs in an inning. It's also common for players to don rally caps when trailing late in a game, and teams aren't above bringing good luck charms to Omaha. LSU, for instance, kept a miniature toilet coin bank in its dugout in 1997 and 1998. The idea was that a player who had a bad at-bat or made an error in the field could flush away the memory when he returned to the dugout.

What was Gorilla Ball?
Gorilla Ball was the term used by LSU manager Skip Bertman and popularized by the CWS media to describe the power-hitting approach that led the Tigers to four championships in the 1990s. Gorilla Ball reached its peak in the 1998 championship game (the best-of-three championship series wasn't added until 2003) when Southern California staved off Arizona State in a 21-14 slugfest. The game lasted four hours and included nine home runs by eight players, 39 hits, and 10 pitchers. Jim Wright of the NCAA had the unenviable task of compiling a list of all of the records that were set that day. "It'll be at least an hour, and I may not have all of them then," he told the media after the game. Aluminum bats were introduced to college baseball in 1974 and by the height of Gorilla Ball bat technology was making a mockery of the minimal restrictions placed on bat size and weight, as well as the game. New bat restrictions followed for the 1999 season and offensive production has since declined to less absurd levels.

Speaking of gorillas, does the CWS have a mascot?
Not anymore. John Routh served as "Maniac"—an "orange anteater/pig with a big snout, a big belly and big baseball shoes," as he described it—for 11 years before he was fired in 1992. That ended a magical, maniacal run for Routh, who maniac.jpgdebuted at the CWS in 1981 as "Cocky," South Carolina's student mascot. After graduating from South Carolina, Routh accepted a job as the University of Miami's mascot, "Maniac." He was so popular in Omaha that NCAA director of men's championships Jerry Miles decided to make him the CWS's official mascot. Routh's routine was reminiscent of the San Diego Chicken's. In 1988, he danced the hokey-pokey with all six umpires before the eighth inning of the nationally televised championship game. Fearful that such antics would compromise the integrity of the game, the NCAA Baseball Committee warned Routh that he could no longer include umpires as part of his routine. Four years and one contract dispute later, at "the very strong suggestion" of the same committee Routh was fired. He wasn't out of a high-profile gig for long, however, as he became the original "Billy the Marlin" for the expansion Florida Marlins in 1993.

What school has won the most titles?
Southern California has won a record 12 titles in 21 appearances. All but one of the Trojans' titles—including five straight from 1970-74—came under the leadership of legendary manager Rod Dedeaux. Texas has made a CWS record 32 appearances and boasts six titles, while Arizona State and LSU have won five titles apiece. Florida State, which opens this year's CWS on Saturday with a game against Stanford, hopes to shed its dubious distinction as the team that has made the most trips to Omaha (18 not counting this season) without winning it all.

Scott Allen is an occasional contributor to mental_floss, covering such topics as The Bud Bowl, the original American Gladiators and lavish dog spas across America.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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