By ERIC OLSON
The NCAA's man in charge of the College World Series stood on the concourse at Omaha's new downtown stadium, looked out at the freshly laid sod and gushed.
"It's starting to look like a baseball stadium, isn't it?" said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA's director of baseball and football. "It's amazing. You put the sod down, and it almost looks like we're ready to play."
TD Ameritrade Park is 75 percent complete by Poppe's estimate and is everything the NCAA wanted as the new venue for the Division I baseball championship. The CWS was played from 1950-2010 at Rosenblatt Stadium, about three miles south of downtown.
Under an agreement between the city and NCAA, TD Ameritrade will host the event for at least the next 25 years.
Workers put down the sod a week ago, and even with cold weather nearing, officials are confident the playing surface will be ready by spring. Though a crisp breeze blew through the concourse as Poppe spoke to reporters Thursday, the grass appeared to be in midseason form.
A late addition to the building plan included a system that blows warm air into the soil to enhance grass-growing conditions. The underground system also can be used to cool the bluegrass blend in the summer and assist in drainage.
"Bottom line: we could have a beautiful stadium, but if the field isn't in good shape, we're in trouble," Poppe said. "That field has to be the best it can be."
The stadium will seat 24,000 and includes 30 luxury suites and 2,500 club seats. Seats have been installed on the first and second levels along the first-base side. Some seats have been bolted down on the second level of the third-base side.
Poppe has said that for players in top programs, Rosenblatt was a step down in terms of quality. That won't be the case with the new ballpark, which he said will be as good or better than any in college baseball.
"I hope they feel this is truly the home of the College World Series," Poppe said, "and it should be the best facility they play in all year."
The players won't be the only ones who enjoy the ballpark, which features an open-air concourse wrapping around the perimeter.
"God bless, I love Rosenblatt and I have a lot of fond memories there," Poppe said. "But it was a challenge to get through the corridors and the concourses there on a hot, muggy night. You can walk the entire (new) stadium and keep your eye on the game. Just the openness of it all, you'll find this an enjoyable place to watch a baseball game."