Demopolis man prepares for annual pilgrimage to Omaha, CWS

“This is my time of year.”

Bobby Jackson is a huge fan of college baseball. He follows the sport all season long, but it is now, with the regionals just over, the super regionals underway and the College World Series beginning June 13 that he looks forward to.

And for the 20th year running, he’ll be in Omaha, Neb., to watch every game of the CWS.

Jackson first went to the college baseball series when the University of Alabama played. He enjoyed it so much that he took his vacation time to attend each year. Now that he has retired, he doesn’t have to worry about taking time off.

From left, Evans, Finney, Jackson, Grief

From left, Evans, Finney, Jackson, Grief

“I would say that Bobby has more of a love of baseball than anybody I’ve met,” said his wife, Ann.

In recent years Jackson’s friend Art Evans has gone to four series with him. Evans, whose last trip to Omaha was in 2013, won’t be able to make it this year; responsibilities as the new Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital CEO/Administrator keep him from going. But Evans looks forward to attending another series and taking his sons and grandson with him.

Evans said he and Jackson have been friends since they lived a block apart growing up and shared a love for baseball. Evans played shortstop while Jackson pitched and played third base for Demopolis High.

“Bobby could pitch a shut-out,” said his wife, since he wouldn’t talk about his baseball career, and he played in the East-West All-Star game in 1971.

She added that he knows so much about the game that usually he can predict who will win the series.

Evans coached Babe Ruth teams for many years and continues to stay involved as the District Commissioner for Alabama Babe Ruth.

One of the reasons Jackson continues to return to Omaha is the people he has come to meet over the years. One friend stands out. Fred Grief was a true Rosenblatt Stadium fan who would make the annual trip from his home in Glendale, Ariz. Although handicapped, Grief never missed a season – until the old stadium was torn down and TD Ameritrade Park was built to host the games.

Jackson and Grief became such good friends that Grief would purchase a handicap ticket for himself and one for Jackson to be his aide.

“Mr. Fred is really special,” said Jackson. He would invite handicapped people to go to the park as his guests. “He would buy tickets, t-shirts, hot dogs and drinks for each.”

Grief introduced Jackson and Evans to his own boyhood friend, Paul Finney, who lives in Freemont, Neb. Finney still attends many of the games, and he would take Jackson to see the sights around the area on off-days.

He’s toured the zoo and the Old Market, and Finney even took him on a memorable trip to the University of Nebraska where they explored the extensive athletic facilities.

Bobby Jackson in his high school uniform

Bobby Jackson in his high school uniform

The new stadium, while lacking the tradition of Rosenblatt, “was built for the fans,” said Jackson. It holds about the same number of people, but it is more fan-friendly.

Jackson had been after Evans to go with him to the series for many years before Evans finally was able to join him.

Evans said Jackson has become very familiar with Omaha, especially its public transportation system. “He knows how to get around. He knows the system better than anyone.”

The first year he went, said Evans, Jackson had them in a motel on 166th Street, miles from the stadium, but Jackson knew just how to take advantage of the buses to get around.

“The experience and fun has all been worth the money I’ve spent,” said Jackson, but those who have traveled with him say that he has learned how to get the most out of the trip to Omaha for the least amount of money.

Both men have a hard time picking out favorite or memorable moments from the series they have attended. When pushed Jackson recalls the year the Oregon State Beavers came from the losers’ bracket to take it all.

Evans, however, remembers the year they got to Omaha so late they didn’t have time to check into the motel before the game. They left their luggage with friends who were tailgating and who promised to take care of it.

When the two men came out of the stadium hours later, everyone had packed up and gone home. Their luggage was nowhere to be found. They approached a policeman with their problem and came to discover that their abandoned luggage had caused a scare. The bomb squad and bomb-sniffing dogs had been called out and the parking lot had been evacuated.

They managed to get the luggage back from stadium security.

Omaha is a friendly city, said Evans. While the people of Omaha are welcoming, the fans at the games are always open to making new friends. “It’s a tailgate party every day, all day for 14 days,” laughed Evans.

Both men said the most avid fans are those from LSU.

“They come to Omaha whether the team comes or not,” said Jackson. “These fans know baseball and tailgating. They know from your voice that you’re from the South, and they will invite you to their party. I never turn down a meal.”

“I really don’t care who goes to the series,” Jackson said, “but I do like the SEC teams.”

Neither Jackson nor Evans will predict a series winner, although Jackson favors either Florida or LSU. Evans thinks Vanderbilt has a shot at repeating their first place finish from last year.

“It all depends on who has the hottest bat,” he said.

Jackson’s annual trek to Omaha is well known among his friends. He gets several calls each year to make sure he’s planning to go. Friends say they look for him on television but have yet to spot him. They will be on the lookout for him again this year as Jackson watches every game from the stands.