Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Updated: June 17, 10:43 AM ET
Omaha tradition: hooding ceremony
OMAHA, Neb. -- Right on time, exactly one half-hour after the first elimination game of the 2009 College World Series on Monday, the fans in Omaha gathered for a solemn occasion.
They lined up three deep at the bend in the road at the southeast corner of the Rosenblatt Stadium parking lot, where College World Series Boulevard turns into 10th Street and the air is thick with grill smoke, laughter and classic rock.
The gatherers formed a circle around a row of pink plastic flamingos, just the like the ones in your least favorite aunt's front yard. Only these birds were emblazoned with the logos of the eight participating teams doing battle inside the old ballpark.
Where else can you see The Hooding Ceremony, complete with plastic pink flamingos, take place?
The crowd smiled, joked and drank away their excited anticipation. The adults ushered the youngsters to the front to make sure they could see firsthand what was about to happen, a time-honored College World Series tradition. Several of the children held bouquets of dead flowers. Soon a hush began to wash over the revelers like a wave.
"Here he comes make way there he is "
As Mark Samstad made his way through the parting masses, he was careful not to spill his beer. Not yet, anyway. He waved to the people like a member of the British royal family as he walked along the line of flamingos until he reached the one at the end, the one draped in Cal State Fullerton paraphernalia.
Throughout the opening weekend of the Series, Titan fans had stopped by to adorn their chosen bird with towels, beads and stickers. Now they were nowhere to be found, replaced by gloating Texas, LSU and Arkansas fans.
Because exactly 30 minutes earlier, Fullerton had become the first team asked to depart Omaha and head home, having been eliminated by Virginia 7-5.
Now it was time to begin what all these fans had shown up to see.
It was time for the hooding ceremony.
"Cal State Fullerton, who would have thunk?" Samstad asked. The man with the Goose Gossage mustache is an Omaha native and self-proclaimed "professional tailgater" (he even has a business card to prove it). He has lived in Fort Lauderdale for three decades, but always returns home for the Series, and for his followers.
"They're gone. So, let's have a moment of silence for the Cal State Fullerton, what is that? Titans? Or Mutants?"
With that, he poured his beer over the flamingo's head as the children placed the dead flowers at its feet. And to the crowd he commanded, "Hit the 'Taps'!"
To a chorus of kazoos and a recording of a Marine Corps bugle, a specially chosen child -- a "professional tailgater" in training -- stepped forward and tied a black hood over the Cal State Fullerton head and season.
"As they say," Samstad shouted to his people, "two and barbecue!"
Later that evening, Fullerton's fowl was pulled from the ground and moved a few feet away to make sure it was separated from the flock of the living. Almost precisely 24 hours later, it finally had company, as the beer-soaked bird of Southern Miss was moved alongside.
"That one there looks like a flamingo, but it's not," Samstad said, stroking his mustache. "That's a Golden Eagle."
Ryan McGee is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "The Road To Omaha: Hits, Hopes and History at the College World Series," which chronicles the excitement and passion of the CWS, is now available.