The year was 1979.
ESPN wouldn’t go on the air until that October. There were no cell phones, no internet.
It cost $68 to send an overnight letter/package from Omaha to Fayetteville.
The Arkansas Razorbacks were in the midst of football and basketball heydays.
The football team had gone 11-1, 9-2-1 and 10-2 in consecutive seasons. Meanwhile, the basketball team was going to one Final Four and missing on a second consecutive Final Four by one basket in a duel featuring Larry Bird against Sidney Moncrief.
A fledging baseball program, only five years removed from playing at an antiquated American Legion baseball field in Fayetteville, would be making their first appearance in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
I was there.
I was the sports director of a new UHF TV station in Ft. Smith/Fayetteville, KLMN-TV.
My wife, Kim and I packed enough clothes for three days.
The true eight team, double elimination, tournament would afford us an opportunity to see game one, have a day off, watch the game on day three, then drive back to our home in Fayetteville.
It never entered my mind we’d be in Omaha the entire tournament.
But Arkansas won, and won and won again — beating Pepperdine and the two behemoths of college baseball at that time, Arizona, who had played in a total of 40 World Series games, and a Texas team that who had played in 66 World Series contests.
We sat in a laundromat twice that week.
“It was unbelievably exciting,” former Arkansas assistant coach and former UCA head coach Doug Clark said of his experience with that first Razorback World Series team. “Norm (Razorback head coach Norm DeBriyn) and I went into the hospitality rom the night before the series started. We were the only ones there at the time. I’m not sure if we were naive or what, but Norm looked at me and said, ‘I think we can win this thing.’ And we almost did it.”The Hogs got off to an inauspicious debut.
Regular Friday starter Rich Erwin was roughed up in the first inning.
DeBriyn walked over to pitching coach Tom Hilton and floated the idea of taking Erwin out so he could start Arkansas’ second game and bringing in left-hander Steve Krueger, the usual Saturday starter.
Clark relays the story that DeBriyn likes to tell now, saying that Hilton told DeBriyn, “then you go tell him.”
Krueger did come in, slammed the door on Pepperdine and Arkansas won 5-4.
Arkansas, behind Erwin, held Arizona to three runs and the Hogs pounded out 10 for a victory in the winner’s bracket game.
After a day off, the Hogs beat arch nemesis Texas behind Scott Tabor, 9-4.
Arkansas’ roster was dotted with three future MLB players, catcher Ronn Reynolds, who spent time in the New York Mets organization, and outfielders Kevin McReynolds and Johnny Ray, who each spent 10 years in the majors.
All of that has been documented. What isn’t is what follows.
What I learned about Omaha was that with almost every meal you were served potatoes, corn or a pasta.
Some meals you were served at least two of those.
I had read about Omaha beef.
This was a 26-year-old’s first experience with that.
Tasty it was, but no more so than the IGA grocery steak that I was used to in northwest Arkansas.
My 25-year-old palate had yet to develop much.
It was the week I sat in an Omaha movie theater and jumped like everyone else when the original Alien burst through the chest of Sigourney Weaver’s co-star.
The sound was all around in that movie house.
I late experienced that sound system at the UA Cinema 150 in little Rock at University and Roosevelt.
At least one other team stayed at the same hotel with the Razorbacks.
Doug remembers it being Pepperdine.
One of the really nice things about the College World Series is the off day.
The players can fraternize if they like around the swimming pool or at one of the sponsored gatherings.Some of the guys from California brought their guitars.
It was, however, a long way to the nearest beach.
It was on an off day that Clark and his wife Carol struck up a friendship with a fellow from Austin named Scott Wilson.
Wilson was a member of the Texas Wild Bunch, a baseball support group who good naturally harassed opposing teams when in Austin (or Omaha).
Wilson, a confirmed bachelor and retired attorney, has seen 500 consecutive home and away Longhorn football games and 1,229 consecutive home and away baseball games.
He and the Clarks continue to stay in touch.
Doug says he has a tremendous hat collection, including one from UCA.
The third day of games, when winners play winners and losers play likewise, an old style Mississippi newspaper sports writer made a rather challenging statement about the California teams (Pepperdine and eventual champion Cal/Fullerton).
There to cover Mississippi State, chortled about the teams from the west coast, “hell, they ain’t even got a fight song.”
A beach beat writer promptly replied, “yeah we do. SURF’S UP.”
Five words is all you need sometimes.
For baseball purists, Rosenblatt Stadium could be likened to Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago.
It’s cozy, cramped under the stands but with tons of history everywhere.
There were loads of places to shoot video from.
For the night of the championship game, a drastic weather change driven by a cold front moved into Omaha.
Temperatures were 15-20 degrees colder than any other night of the series.
In five previous contests, Arkansas had scored five, 10, nine, 10 and eight runs.
In the title game, Arkansas scored only one run and finished runner up to Cal/Fullerton, 2-1.
To this day, I firmly believe the weather did Arkansas in.
Forty years later, I still have no idea who paid for our hotel room.
Upon checking out, I was told our room had been “taken care of.”
Omaha has a wonderful zoo that was almost across the street from Rosenblatt and in 1979, Ak-Sar-Ben was still open for Horst racing.
The horse track has since closed.
My memories of Omaha and the College World Series are fond memories.
If you have a favorite team playing there this year, I’d suggest taking it in.
At least for a couple of days.
However, don’t forget your quarters.
Laundromats are still available if you need them.