The Casual Fan's Guide to the College World Series

Arkansas Razorbacks look on from the dugout as they loose to the Oregon State Beavers.
Arkansas Razorbacks look on from the dugout as they loose to the Oregon State Beavers.
Peter Aiken, Getty Images

Beginning Monday, LSU and Texas will square off in the best-of-three championship series at the 63rd College World Series. Here are the answers to eight questions related to the two-week event held at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska.

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 last year 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, hit .450 for Holy Cross at the 1962 CWS and 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 33 appearances and boasts six titles, while Arizona State and LSU have won five titles apiece.

twitterbanner.jpg

shirts-555.jpg

tshirtsubad_static-11.jpg

10 Things You Might Not Know About the Invictus Games

Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Though the media tends to dwell on the private life of Prince Harry and his recent marriage to actor Meghan Markle, the Duke of Sussex has more on his mind than tabloids might suggest. Beginning October 20 in Sydney, Australia, and running through October 27, he'll be presenting the Invictus Games, a multi-sport competition he created in 2014 for wounded veterans. Athletes will participate in a variety of sports, including wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball, in an attempt to earn medals and, in Harry's words, "demonstrate life beyond disability."

For more on the history (and future) of the Games, check out our round-up below.

1. IT WAS INSPIRED BY AN AMERICAN COMPETITION.

Prince Harry talks to a Warrior Games representative in the United States
Arthur Edwards-Pool, Getty Images

While on a promotional tour of the United States to raise awareness for his charities, Prince Harry was invited to appear in support of the British team in the Warrior Games, a competition for wounded service veterans that was held in Colorado in 2013. Impressed by the camaraderie and enthusiasm shown by participants, he took the concept and created the Invictus (Latin for "unvanquished" or "unconquered") Games. The inaugural event was held in London in September 2014. "It was such a good idea by the Americans that it had to be stolen," he joked.

2. IT'S FUNDED IN PART BY BANK FINES.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stand on the sidelines
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

While the Invictus Games attract corporate sponsors—including Jaguar—to subsidize the operating costs of the event, funds for the 2014 installment also came from fines levied against British banks that were charged with manipulating currency exchange rates. Approximately £1 million (roughly $1,300,000) were made available from the fines, matching the £1 million Prince Harry donated via his Royal Foundation.

3. THE GAMES FEATURE INDOOR ROWING.

An athlete in the Invictus Games competes in indoor rowing
Steve Bardens, Getty Images for Invictus Games

Invictus invites athletes to compete across a range of adaptive sporting events—sports that have been modified to be all-inclusive for people with an array of physical challenges. In sitting volleyball, athletes have to keep one butt cheek touching the floor while touching the ball. In indoor rowing, athletes use a rowing machine to simulate outdoor rowing.

4. WHEELCHAIR RUGBY GETS INTENSE.

Invictus Games athletes participate in wheelchair rugby
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

If you have an impression that modified sports are somehow easier than their able-bodied counterparts, you're mistaken. In wheelchair rugby, athletes attempt to get a volleyball across a court and between two cones on the opposing team's side. They experience frequent collisions that appear to have more in common with demolition derbies than football, and participants are sometimes blindsided by the hits, which can bend wheels and axles.

5. IT'S NOT JUST FOR HUMANS.

A service dog shakes off water after a swim at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for Invictus

Because many disabled veterans rely on service dogs to assist in tasks of daily living, Games officials were more than willing to open their doors to the animals during the 2016 event in Orlando. At the last minute, organizers permitted the dogs to jump in the pool for an unofficial race. (Though it was held at Disney World, Pluto was not invited to participate in the doggy-paddle event.)

6. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN MADE AN APPEARANCE.

Bruce Springsteen shakes the hand of a war veteran at the Invictus Games
Chris Jackson, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Prince Harry's involvement has contributed heavily to appearances by a number of well-known public figures at the Games. Former president Barack Obama and Joe Biden attended the 2017 competition; David Beckham was named the 2018 ambassador. In 2017, Bruce Springsteen closed out the event in Toronto with a solo set. He was later joined on stage by Bryan Adams.

7. THERE WAS A GAP YEAR.

Prince Harry talks to representatives at the Invictus Games
Gregory Shamus, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

After the 2014 Games in London, Orlando hosted the 2016 contest and Toronto held the 2017 installment. There was no 2015 edition—the Games used a gap year in order for Orlando to raise the funds to organize the event. The competition will also skip 2019, moving to the Hague in the Netherlands for the 2020 Games.

8. IT'S GETTING MORE VETERANS INVOLVED IN SPORTS.

A group of athletes huddle during the Invictus Games
Harry How, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

Members of the armed services don't need to compete in the Games to feel their influence. Following the inaugural 2014 event, Help for Heroes, which assisted in recruiting British athletes for competition, reported that there was a 463 percent increase in veterans signing up for archery talent assessments and a 633 percent increase in powerlifting enrollees.

9. THE GAMES WILL BE STUDIED BY SCIENCE.

An Invictus Games athlete holds up a trophy
Paul Thomas, Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover

Participation in Invictus appears to be a significant boost for the overall morale of contestants. And thanks to a grant from the Forces in Mind Trust, we'll eventually have some objective evidence of it. For the next four years, researchers will follow 300 athletes to assess their overall well-being compared to non-participants. Such evidence of the benefits of adaptive sport will likely contribute to a greater number of participants—and funding—in the future.

10. A COMMEMORATIVE COIN WAS ISSUED IN BRAILLE.

An Invictus Games commemorative coin features text in Braille
Royal Australian Mint

In honor of the Invictus Games' vision-impaired contestants, the Royal Australian Mint issued its first-ever coin with Braille text. Intended to commemorate and publicize the 2018 event in Sydney, the coin features a disabled competitor and "Sydney '18" in Braille. The $1 AUD coin sells for $15 AUD (about $11) and is limited to a run of 30,000. A gold-plated version is limited to 2018 copies and sells for $150 AUD ($108).

8 of Evel Knievel’s Most Memorable Stunts

Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

Born on this day in 1938, Robert "Evel" Knievel was a stuntman who entertained audiences with his daredevil motorcycle jumps. After his first jump in 1965, Knievel upped the ante, making multiple record-breaking jumps (and breaking countless bones), all while wearing his signature leather jumpsuits. To celebrate what would have been his 80th birthday, we've compiled a list of eight of Knievel’s best motorcycle jumps, from the fountain at Las Vegas’s Caesar's Palace to London's Wembley Stadium.

1. CAESAR'S PALACE

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in 1967, a crowd of thousands watched as Knievel attempted to ride his motorcycle across the Caesar's Palace fountain in Las Vegas, Nevada. As he made the 141-foot jump, the crowd watched in horror as Knievel botched the landing. His body bounced on the ground like a rag doll, and an ambulance drove him to a local hospital. The stuntman suffered multiple fractures and a concussion, but his jump made him famous when ABC aired video of the botched stunt.

2. MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

In 1971, Knievel entertained an audience at the Auto Thrill Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, he successfully jumped over a line of nine cars and a van. And in his characteristically flashy style, he wore a red, white, and blue leather jumpsuit.

3. LOS ANGELES COLISEUM

Knievel completed a perfect motorcycle jump in downtown Los Angeles in 1973. Held at the L.A. Coliseum, the event featured Knievel riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle over 50 smashed cars stacked in a pile. Some 35,000 spectators in the coliseum cheered as he safely made his landing and set a record that would stand for 35 years.

4. TWO LIONS AND A BOX OF RATTLESNAKES

In 1965, the motorcyclist performed his first public stunt. He organized an event in Moses Lake, Washington featuring two mountain lions and a box of rattlesnakes. Driving his Honda motorcycle, Knievel cleared a 90-foot box of serpents and then jumped over a couple of lions. Reflecting later on the beginning of his career, he remembered that although he was unharmed, the jump didn’t go as smoothly as planned. "I jumped 50 rattlesnakes in a 90-foot box and two mountain lions, but smashed into the edge of the box. All the snakes got out and the people had to run down the mountain," he said.

5. COW PALACE

In 1972, Knievel broke a record by jumping over 15 cars in an arena near San Francisco, but after the successful landing, he crashed and skidded through the short tunnel leading to the concessions. The crowd rushed after him, expecting him to be dead, but Knievel stood up (despite a newly broken ankle) and told the crowd: "If someone breaks this indoor record by jumping more than 15 cars, I’ll jump 16 or whatever the number … even if it kills me."

6. SNAKE RIVER CANYON

Idaho’s Snake River Canyon was the site of Knievel’s best-known stunt. Because he couldn’t get governmental approval to ride a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, he settled for his second choice: Snake River Canyon. In 1974, Knievel tried to jump from one side of the canyon to the other—a 1600-foot wide gap—but he didn’t ride a regular motorcycle. Instead, he used a steam-powered rocket dubbed the Skycycle X-2. After taking off, his parachute deployed too early, and the wind anticlimactically blew him back toward the rocks. In September 2016, stunt performer Eddie Braun successfully jumped over Snake River Canyon in a replica of Knievel's Skycycle.

7. WEMBLEY STADIUM

In May 1975, after his disappointing performance at Snake River Canyon, Knievel went to London’s Wembley Stadium to jump over a line of 13 single-decker buses. An estimated 80,000 people watched him as he attempted this 100-mile-per-hour jump. Unfortunately, he crash-landed on the last bus and bounced until he hit the ground. Despite his injuries, he asked to be helped up, took the microphone, and made an announcement. "I will never, ever, ever jump again," he told the crowd. "I'm through."

8. KINGS ISLAND

Although Knievel told the London audience that he was done after his Wembley jump, he came out of retirement a few months later. In October 1975, he rode his motorcycle over 14 Greyhound buses at Ohio’s Kings Island amusement park. After clearing 133 feet, Knievel landed safely, and the televised event earned huge ratings. Knievel continued performing stunts and doing speaking tours until the early '80s, mostly while traveling with his daredevil son, Robbie Knievel.

This article originally ran in 2016.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER