Cards chase glory, possible history lesson in Omaha

Cards chase glory, possible history lesson in Omaha
Billy Reed

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The University of Louisville baseball team didn’t come roaring into Omaha at the speed of a Michael McAvene fastball, which is north of 90 mph, but the Cardinals still arrive with the verve and swag exhibited by actor Marlon Brando in "The Wild Ones,” the 1952 classic movie about motorcycle gangs.

Brando is mentioned here because he grew up in Omaha. I am not making this up. In fact, if the city ever wanted to build a Mt. Rushmore of natives who made it big in Hollywood, Brando would be there with Henry Fonda, Fred Astaire and Nick Nolte.

All except maybe Nolte probably were gone before 1950, when Omaha became the official host city of the College Baseball World Series, and history doesn't tell us whether any of them played the sport.

But Bob Gibson did.

Another native of Omaha, Gibson has to be in any discussion about the greatest right-handed pitcher of all time. As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1959-1975, he won 251 games with 3,117 strikeouts and a 2.91 earned-run average.

After graduating from Creighton, also located in Omaha, Gibson delayed his baseball career a year so he could play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

A ruthless competitor, Gibson probably would have enjoyed the way the current UofL team advanced to Omaha. Pitted against East Carolina in the Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium last week, the Cards didn't just beat the Pirates; they took their heart and stomped that sucker flat.

In two wins, the Cards outscored the Pirates 26-1 and outhit them, 32-8. In the second game, UofL pitcher Bobby Miller had a no-hitter going through eight innings. In other words, the Cards utterly dominated the Pirates every way one team can dominate another.

And so they come into Omaha with engines roaring and tires squealing. They begin World Series play against Vanderbilt on Sunday afternoon.

By the way, Malcolm X was from Omaha, giving the city a strong connection with Louisville.

After joining the Black Muslims and changing his name from Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali fell under Malcolm's spell. Fiery and independent, he eventually left to begin his own ministry, which led Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Black Muslims, to have Malcolm X assassinated in 1965.

That put the fear of Allah into Ali, who couldn't work up the nerve to leave the sect until after Elijah's death on Feb. 25, 1975.

Another obvious connection between the cities is the thoroughbred named Omaha, winner of the Triple Crown in 1935. Trained by "Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons for Belair Stud, the colt was ridden by Willie Saunders.

Later that year, Saunders was charged with being an accessory to the murder of a woman on Louisville's River Road. After a two-month trial that was the O.J. case of its time, he was acquitted. He never again rode in the Derby.

If UofL does well in Omaha beginning on Sunday, the team could be in former President Gerald Ford's hometown for almost three weeks. So the players could have the time, if they're curious enough, to soak up some local history, as well as firing down some Omaha steaks or Reuben sandwiches (which, by the way were invented in Omaha).

UofL coach Dan McDonnell, making his fifth trip to Omaha in his 12 years with the Cards, understands the need to stay focused. But he also knows that boys will be boys, to coin a phrase, and that Cardinal stars such as Alex Binelas, Reid Detmers, Tyler Fitzgerald, Logan Wyatt and the aforementioned McAvene and Miller can spend only so much time on their electronic devices.

Hey, here's a thought: Wonder if Warren Buffett is in town? Wonder if he likes baseball?

Earlier this year, Buffet's net wealth was estimated at $87.5 billion, making him the richest person in the world. He lives in Omaha. At the age of seven, he became interested in business after reading "A Thousand Ways to Make $1,000,” a book he had checked out of the Omaha Public Library.

Known for his frugal lifestyle, Buffett also is one of the world's most generous philanthropists. There is a message there that he sometimes shares at speaking engagements.

Expecting to see Buffett at the College World Series probably is a lost cause. But there is the possibility of many Omaha baseball fans adopting the Cards, especially if they play anywhere near as well as they played against poor East Carolina.

Oh, by the way, the actress Dorothy McGuire also is from Omaha. The city just might have to find a place for her on its mythical Mount Rushmore of actors.

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