OMAHA, NE (WAVE) – For the next few weeks in Omaha, the sport of baseball is on display. But just outside the stadium, a much different sport is being showcased at its highest level, the sport of tailgating. Go to any parking lot and you won’t have to look very hard to find the greatest party around. The parking lots are decked out with rows of colorful tents and flags from every school and state.
As you make your way towards the parking lot party, the most amazing food smells begin to greet you. Spicy jambalaya, slow roasting meats, home cooking coming at you from every angle.
Tailgating corridors have been established through these giant slabs of concrete; oases with shade, delicious food, games, and hospitality.
It’s easy to see why many of the people in these lots have been tailgating at the College World Series for decades, regardless of fan affiliation or participation in the actual event.
“I’ve been coming my whole life,” Rick Marasco said. “You have people you’ve been sitting by your whole life, and you only see them once a year here.”
Marasco is a Nebraska Cornhusker fan. His family is from Nebraska, and he grew up playing games and later tailgating at the old home of the College World Series, Rosenblatt Stadium. Many of the tailgaters have been doing it so long, they’ve moved their tailgates from Rosenblatt to the new TD Ameritrade Park, too.
One such group is the Lot D Lounge Lizards from Mississippi State. The group began tailgating at the CWS in 2007, with a setup most would consider normal for tailgating, some folding chairs and a small grill. The Lizards have been back every year and grown their organization into a full-fledged southern parking lot estate, taking up several parking spots. Co-founder Paul Maloney takes the tailgating and hospitality very seriously.
“It’s a black hole of southern hospitality,” Maloney said. "You've just fallen right into the middle of it."
The Lizards setup is among the most impressive in the lots. Five grills, four tents, custom signs, flags, tons of seating and a full bar. The food? Not exactly burgers and hotdogs. On Monday’s menu for the Lot D Lizards were duck poppers, pig wings, venison sausage balls, bratwurst, seafood stew and a full venison tenderloin with cheese grits. Those were just the appetizers.
You can’t stand in the vicinity of their tailgate without being offered plates of food, given a name tag, a souvenir cup and a tailgate business card. You read that right. As you’ve probably already gathered, this isn’t your mother’s tailgate. Maloney and his wife Traci have created business cards for their tailgate, including both of their contact information and their parking lot location.
Not all of the tailgates are as elaborate as the Maloney’s, but none are without the essentials; decorations, food and friends and family. The area is wrought with people playing games in the middle of tents, co-mingling of fans from around the country, a real sense of camaraderie
“I saw somebody who asked why I had a nametag on,” Gay Nell said. “I said, because it’s like a high school reunion. Everybody changes, but you look at someone and said ‘I know you!’”
Nell and friend Gary Whittington are LSU friends up from Baton Rouge, making the same trip they’ve made for the past 12 years.
The LSU faithful easily have the biggest number of fans out in the tailgates. Purple and yellow tents, flags and décor are everywhere you turn. The only thing more prevalent than the creole enthusiasts? Their food. Etouffe, gumbo, full low-country crawfish boils, Emeril Lagasse eat your heart out.
The most remarkable part of the whole experience is the unspoken agreement between all participants, what’s mine is yours. Any stranger walking through the area is offered food, drink, a seat. It is virtually insisted upon that you come be a part, feel welcome and enjoy.
It truly is a southern hospitality oasis in the middle of the plain states. And a giving, communal oasis in a world that can sometimes seem so harsh, cynical and self-serving. There aren’t a bunch of people in these tailgating areas with their eyes glued to their smart phones. The notion of doing your own thing, or worrying about yourself has no place in this space. People walking up to complete strangers offering a wing or a bloody mary is not the exception, it’s the rule.
The tailgating community like any other is not without its characters. There are grown men decked out in wild clothes, and an ambulance re-purposed into a tailgating machine with speakers and tv screens, named “Ludus Perfectus”, perfect game in Latin. The tailgating is truly a feast for all of the senses and good for the soul.
It looks like that tradition will continue to grow, at least if the Lot D Lounge Lizards have anything to say about it. Their tailgate has now grown so big, they rent a storage unit throughout the year to store all of the equipment. Then, once a year, they rent a uhaul and bring all of the equipment over to the stadium and set up to feed people for four days.
Come to think of it, with the dedication and preparation required and the vast interest and camaraderie, maybe tailgating is the real main event in Omaha.
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