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'50% off eliminated teams': Bargain-bin hunting at the MCWS comes with a steep price

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Published in Breaking News
Saturday, 22 June 2024 15:35

OMAHA, Neb. -- Yes, it's a soul-crushing ego check. But hey, it's also a great deal!

That is the conundrum that faced hundreds of rudderless college baseball fans as they perused the sales tents of the Omaha Baseball Village on Thursday afternoon. They milled about in the shadow of a very empty Charles Schwab Field, some seeking shelter from the mid-June Nebraska heat beneath the monolithic sign on the street side of the ballpark's scoreboard tower reading "HOME OF THE NCAA MEN'S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES."

The stadium was vacated on what is the MCWS's rarest of days, an "If necessary" corner of the week-plus-long bracket that finds itself with zero baseball games. And even the slowest sleuth could have CSI'd the cause and effect of it all simply by checking out the souvenir racks.

"What we have here is a case of the haves and the teams the haves turned into have-nots," proclaimed Len Grayson, a Florida State fan who is in Omaha until Tuesday because he confidently booked an end-of-series return flight to Georgia, convinced his Seminoles would be dogpiling in that ballpark as national champs. Instead, they were eliminated Wednesday by top-ranked Tennessee. He held up an orange "Oma-Vols" T-shirt with a $40 price tag and an identical "Oma-Noles" for $9.99.

"Guess which team still has a chance to win the College World Series? Here's a hint: They ain't the ones in the bargain bin," Grayson said.

There are three tells when it comes to figuring out which schools made the earliest exits from the annual eight-team MCWS field. The first is by keeping an eye on the nine flagpoles -- eight of which hoist a school flag -- at the entrance to the Village, moved downtown after the demolition of Omaha's OG ballpark, Rosenblatt Stadium. One by one, as teams are eliminated, their banners are lowered.

Back when the series was played at Rosenblatt, a group of partiers known as the Professional Tailgaters (, seriously) began a flamingo hooding ceremony, where plastic pink avian yard ornaments fashioned with the logos of each team had their heads covered by black hoods whenever their team was sent home, complete with ceremonial music and, of course, a toast of many beverages. That tradition also traveled to the downtown ballpark, undeterred even in 2015 when a mystery fan, presumably upset over their team's Omaha failings, stole three of the flamingos and placed them atop a 30-foot water tower just north of the ballpark.

Then there is the hard truth to be found on those hangers. On Thursday, ahead of this weekend's best-of-three championship series between Tennessee and Texas A&M, the souvenir proprietors were busy pulling out all their Aggies and Big Orange merchandise and moving it the front of their stores, replacing the apparel that had been scrambled out to the front of those same tents the day before.

"Oh, we start marking it down and moving it out front as soon as we know who is being eliminated," explained Trish Dew, who was handling the cash register at vendor DCM's tent in the Omaha Baseball Village on Thursday, standing behind a table covered in half-off MCWS calendars and pennants featuring the logos of the long-since departed UNC Tar Heels, Virginia Cavaliers and NC State Wolfpack. "You see this television right behind me? We are watching the games and we are so close we can also hear what's happening in the stadium. I'm not joking when I say that the moment the game is over, if a team is done, their fans are over here in minutes looking for deals and we are ready for them."

It's a flash mob firestorm fire sale, with Day-Glo orange price tags quickly slapped over the opening-day dollar signs and plastic-covered paper touting "ELIMINATED TEAMS 50% OFF" as the newest hooded-flamingo, half-staff victims of the game have their T-shirts and hats hung alongside those who have gone before them, lined up on wire racks like ads for missing pets.

The only time the winners and losers will hang side-by-side will be as soon as the series ends, the just-delivered, very expensive champions gear adjacent to the just-slashed, very cheap remainders emblazoned with the runners-up. Now, the only TBD is which team will eventually join the other losers and which will not.

"Should I buy this now or wait and see what happens?" one beer-infused Tennessee loyalist asked his companion.

"What are you saying?" the sun-burned friend replied. "Wait and see if we lose so you can get a better deal if we lose? Then your ass is going to need to find a ride home."

Virginia ... NC State ... North Carolina ... Kentucky ... Florida State ... Florida ... and TBD. Charting one's favorite school's performance in Omaha is as easy as seeing where they live on those racks. And that inner debate of pain vs. purchasing power isn't limited to just this year. If one dives deep enough, down past the $20 deals of 2024's non-champions, they can find their alma mater's ghosts of Omaha past for $15 ... $10 ... and less.

"Dude!" a Texas A&M fan shouted to a family member, holding up a $5.99 maize-and-blue Michigan shirt from the 2019 MCWS, when the Wolverines lost to Vanderbilt in a heartbreaking three-game championship series. "Didn't your cousin cry all the way home to Detroit? You should totally get him this."

Louisville 2017, Auburn 2022, NC State's COVID-riddled 2021 nightmare, heck, even all of Tennessee and Texas A&M's recent Omaha trips that came up empty. Depending upon one's point of emotional view, the Omaha Baseball Village is either a vintage sport treasure trove or a spiral of callback psychological ruination.

But, man, what a savings!

"I can't decide if I should buy this stuff or not," explained Virginia fan Tracy Downs, who said she and her husband weren't in Omaha for their Cavaliers' MCWS title in 2015 but have been here for all three of UVA's appearances since. The Oma-Hoos (that's what's on the T-shirt) went 1-2 in '21 and 0-2 in each of the past two years. "It's great to get here, but is it weird to go back home and wear stuff from when you were the first team out?"

Her husband never even responded. He just looked over his sunglasses knowing the inevitable decision.

"Yeah, I'm buying all of this. I can get two shirts and a hat for what one shirt would have cost last weekend. And yeah, I am buying everyone's Christmas presents, too. Go Hoos."

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