Al Martinez is Executive Sous Chef for Levy Restaurants, the CWS caterer via MECA. He created many wonderful dishes for us to sample-each one a home run.
My favorites were the 18 inch “Strike Zone” calzone and the porkbelly slider. Some items were named after parts of Omaha like the South O 7 Layer Dip and the 10th Street Tostada.
Other tasty offerings include: Grilled Street Dawg, Cuban Dawg, Double Play Burger, Southwest Turkey Burger, First Base Fried Pork Fritter Sandwich, Hand Carved Reuben Sandwich, Smothered Country Fries, and Batter’s Box Nachos.
On the lighter side, the Mediterranean Chicken Wrap was light, satisfying and refreshing on a hot summer’s day.
On the sweet side you can enjoy Berrie Kabobs, cheesecake on a stick and a slice of giant rainbow cake
Whatever the dish, College World Series fans will not just be cheering the teams but Al Martinez and his creations as well.
A special thank you goes out to Kathryn Morrissey of the College World Series of Omaha, Inc. for this Omaha interview. She is executive director of this important Omaha nonprofit.
OmahaNebraska.com met with her in her new office across from the stadium in the old Roja’s location.
How did you become executive director of the CWS?
I was with Mutual of Omaha for about a dozen years, and one of the things that I did near the end of my career there was work in community relations and public affairs — and one of the projects was the College World Series. That was my first exposure to working on the College World Series.
My grandfather, who was a western Iowa farmer, loved the College World Series and used to listen to it in the cab of his tractors and couldn’t wait until he retired to come down and watch the games in person.
We’ve got from him a framed one million fan pennant, which is one of my favorite things.
So there is a little bit of family history there, but actually I didn’t start until 1988.
Did he have a favorite team?
He didn’t. He loved baseball and it’s perfect for when you are a farmer when you are about your daily chores.
I am a member of the Optimist Club, and we are helping sell tickets.
One of the best [groups]. The Optimist Club is fantastic.
What is special about the Optimist clubs and other service groups is that they host teams. They become almost like the family away from home to all the teams that are here.
Great community resources and they are on call 24 hours a day.
Teams rely on them. They [groups like this] are our first-line ambassador for the College World Series.
It’s part of the fabric of Omaha. These service clubs take so much pride in it. Some of them are non-traditional, like Offutt [AFB] is one of our service clubs.
A booklet of 10 GA [General Admission] tickets [sells for] for $90. If you buy them individually, they are still very reasonable, but they are $15 at the box office. So you can see that a $9 ticket to a Division I Men’s Championship is amazing.
How did you become executive director here?
What happened is, when I was working at Mutual of Omaha, our company was responsible for many things, and it felt like a lot of responsibility for a company or a group not attached to the College World Series in some way.
At that time, [it] had an all-volunteer board of directors.
Bozell and Jacobs was the name of the advertising group at the time. Now, it is just known as Bozell. Their founder, Morrie Jacobs, was kind of one of our founders, too. They may have had a professional role earlier on, but everyone else was a volunteer.
The event had expanded over the years, and what they were asking volunteer groups to do expanded, and it just felt like the College World Series maybe needed to kind of evolutionarily go to the next step.
So my husband, Dan, who you met, Dan started his own company in event management and convention planning service and at that point what he was doing, basically starting his business up and looking for new clients.
And I said, I think the College World Series can use those services and he went to Jack Diesing Sr., who was chairmen of the board at the time, and said, “I think you need an outsourced management company to help you with some aspects of the College World Series.”
He talked about creating a local contributor program, doing other administrative work and other onsite work for them.
Jack Sr. said, “We don’t have a budget for it, and why would you want a job that’s only a few weeks of the year?”
And my husband said, “You know, I have a feeling that the event is going to grow and might go beyond a few weeks a year. And I am just starting, too, so if you like what I do, I am not going to charge for what I do for the first series, and if you see benefit to it, we’ll talk afterwards.” That was 1989.
The College World series the next year hired Meeting and Event Design, Inc., his company, to be the outsourced event management company.
Then we started building the new stadium.
We signed a long-term agreement with the NCAA to keep the College World Series in Omaha through 2036.
The NCAA said, at that point, you might want to consider adding full-time staff because you know the event is probably going to continue to get bigger, and with the long-term agreement there is certainly a lot of structure here.
At that point, our board of directors spent more than a year examining how that should happen and what should be in place.
And we became the first full-time staff of the College World Series, and I was fortunate enough to be named executive director.
How many years for you as executive director?
That was 2010, and my first year at the new stadium was 2011.
So I am coming up on involvement with the College World Series of almost 30 years next year.
What did you do before becoming executive director?
I am a journalism major who started life wanting to be in public relations field.
At one point I worked for the Attorney General of Iowa, which was a very interesting job.
I’ve worked twice at Mutual of Omaha.
Then I went to work for Dan’s company, and we did event management work for companies locally and elsewhere in the United States and did convention work. And that was all very helpful.
It equipped us well to work with our other partners here: MECA, the City of Omaha and the NCAA.
What type of entity is the College World Series of Omaha?
It’s a nonprofit organization, coming up on its 50th year of incorporation. It was incorporated in 1967.
We may be one of the earliest sports commissions. Now our focus is singular, just on the College World Series.
But in 1967, there were not a whole lot of organizations like that.
When you think about it, incorporation just formalized a group that had been around in one way or another since 1950.
There was this group in ‘49 and ‘50 saw the College World Series as not having a not really solid permanent home. It had gone from Kalamazoo, MI to Wichita.
George Bush, the 41st president, played in the very first College World Series. He was a very handsome player. His nickname was Poppy and he was with Yale.
Then the Series went from Kalamazoo to Wichita. Both places, it lost money.
There was no economic reason why anybody would necessarily want that tournament.
[Our] early leaders must have had tremendous foresight. They went down to Wichita and said, “We just built a new municipal stadium in Omaha and we would really like the College World Series to be played there.”
And we played our first game there in 1950.
As I said, that same volunteer core evolved to College World Series of Omaha Inc. and was incorporated in 1967. And now you are seeing the full-time staff that is way down the road that is the result of that.
Groups like Bozell, their founder (Morrie) was part of that.
Well, Johnny Rosenblatt was another one.
There were early leaders like that who just had great vision.
What do you feel the College World Series means to Omaha?
The College World Series means so much to Omaha depending on who you talk to.
I like to think it’s a memory maker for generations of families. So that’s on the one hand.
On the other hand, it also gives us a national identity.
When I used to travel with Mutual of Omaha, people would ask, “Oh, do you know Marlin Perkins?” and say things like that.
You know for many years now I’ve heard not just that, I’ve heard people say things like, “Have you gone to a College World Series game?”
I’ll often wear apparel and they will say, “You must have gone to the College World Series,” and I’ll say, “I actually work there.”
They will reply, “Oh, my gosh, that’s on my bucket list. I have friends who have gone.”
Everyone seems to know about the College World Series and its connection to Omaha.
And the teams themselves will have above in their locker rooms as they go out the door as they go onto the field the word “Omaha” and then slap it for good luck.
Thank you again, Kathyn, for the interview for our Omaha blog.