Asmussen: Omaha rolls out red carpet

Playing the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament in Washington?

Terrible idea.

Playing the Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha?

Brilliant.

First, an admission: I’m biased. Not against D.C. (OK, maybe a little). My bias leans toward Omaha.

You see, your humble columnist grew up in Nebraska’s largest city. And loves it.

Bottom line, the people make the place, and the people there are off-the-charts warm and fuzzy. They put the Friendly in Friendly Midwesterner. Especially, the 85-year-old retired pharmacist living on South 92nd.

Omaha is an event town, and this week the Big Ten tournament takes over. Nothing the place likes more than college baseball. The College World Series is so popular that the city built a fancy new park to make sure it could keep it. Forever. The NCAA and the city agreed to a  25-year deal. If the prideful locals have anything to say about it, the CWS (Nebraska term) is never going anywhere.

Taking the Big Ten tournament to TD Ameritrade Park made too much sense. It starts Wednesday, with eight teams playing double elimination. Omahans will embrace Big Ten baseball as if it is a stock tip from local legend Warren Buffett.

Attendance at TD Ameritrade figures to dwarf recent Big Ten baseball tournaments. At last check, 4,000 to 5,000 all-session tickets had been sold.

And the Big Ten plans to come back. TD Ameritrade will take turns hosting the next few conference tournaments in a rotation that includes Target Field in Minneapolis. After a few years, the Big Ten will make a call on the event’s future. Just a guess that Omaha at least holds its spot in line or takes over altogether.

Illinois coach Dan Hartleb is making his first visit to the home of the College World Series. If it goes like he hopes, Hartleb will return in June with his team.

“I’ve always said I’m not going until we get there,” Hartleb said. “I expect the program to get there.”

First, he gets a test run with Wednesday’s opener against Michigan State.

“It’ll be a fun experience,” Hartleb said. “Hopefully with our guys getting out there they’ll see the passion the people have for Omaha. When you have that true vision of what the facility and the area is like, maybe that gives you that little extra incentive or edge to get to that point.”

Passion is a good word for Omaha. A passion for sports. (College baseball, Nebraska football, Creighton basketball). A passion for good food (Omaha Steaks, Godfather’s Pizza, Runza, Pettit’s Pastry). A passion for its famous citizens (Buffett, Henry Fonda, Gerald Ford, Marlon Brando, Bob Gibson).

If you go, tell them Bob sent you. Asmussen, not Gibson.

Bob Asmussen writes Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

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