OMAHA, Neb. – TD Ameritrade Park drew high marks from North Carolina and Vanderbilt fans.
Chris Nash, a 28-year-old Vanderbilt graduate from Chicago, made his first trip to Omaha and was impressed with the new venue but wished he had seen his alma mater play once at Rosenblatt.
"It would have been nice to see the old stadium," Nash said, "but this is very nice. It's big. I like everything I've seen so far."
Steve Bunting and his wife, Christi, are in Omaha to cheer on son Ben, a senior outfielder for North Carolina. Ben Bunting played at Rosenblatt with the Tar Heels in 2008-09.
Steve Bunting said he didn't quite know what to expect Saturday.
"I thought Rosenblatt had a lot of character," he said. "But this is a beautiful facility. It doesn't look like there's a bad seat anywhere."
Bunting said he likes that the bullpens at the new stadium are located beyond the outfield fence rather than near the foul lines, like at Rosenblatt.
But he said he misses the old ballpark smell of Rosenblatt.
Bunting and his wife said they just recently became aware of the Missouri River flooding. The river flows just a few blocks east of the stadium. Officials say the floodwaters won't reach the stadium. Out-of-town visitors who flew to Omaha have remarked that they are amazed at the view from the air of the flood devastation.
"It's very sad for the people," Steve Bunting said. "I feel so sorry for all these people who have lost what they had in the flood."
BUSH ZIPS PITCH: Former President George W. Bush tossed the ceremonial first pitch before the first game between Vanderbilt and North Carolina. The 43rd president stood at the base of the mound and put some zip on his toss before quickly exiting the field.
"It was a fastball, but a really slow fastball," Bush said later.
Asked if the catcher gave him a good sign, Bush answered: "He gave me a good sign. The catcher could have caught it barehanded."
Taking the throw was Tanner Lubach, an all-state catcher from Southwest High School in Lincoln.
Bush also threw out the first pitch before the 2001 CWS, when he tossed a strike to Stanford's Ryan Garko before the Cardinal played Tulane.
EYE-OPENER FOR CAL: California coach David Esquer wanted to make his team's first in-person look at the new stadium to be a real eye-opener. So he told the players on the bus ride to close their eyes just before the stadium came into view.
As the bus drew near, Esquer reminded the Bears what it took to get to Omaha. Even the bus driver spoke about overcoming adversity and taking advantage of opportunities.
"'OK, now open your eyes,'" Esquer told his players.
"To see their faces is pretty rewarding. It's a goal, but it's one of those that you don't know until you go through it and get here. To see their faces and realize they were actually in Omaha was priceless."
ORGANIST REPLACES LEGEND: The new stadium features a new organist, Jerry Pawlak.
Pawlak, of Lincoln, replaces Lambert Bartak, who retired after six decades of playing at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Pawlak won out over four others who auditioned for the CWS job. His resume includes a gig as a substitute organist for the Chicago White Sox.
ROTH HONORED: South Carolina pitcher Michael Roth earned the NCAA Division I Men's Baseball Championship Elite 88 award recognizing the sport's top student-athlete.
Roth, an All-Southeastern Conference first-team pick, boasts a 3.823 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale in international business. He's one of 88 student-athletes receiving the academic award at each of the NCAA's championship events.
The left-hander enters the CWS with a 13-3 record and 1.02 ERA. He's the scheduled starter for the defending champion Gamecocks Sunday night against Texas A&M.