OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The NCAA administrator who oversaw the growth of the College World Series into one of the nation's major summer sports traditions is working his 26th and final CWS.
Dennis Poppe, vice president of championships and alliances, is retiring Jan. 1 after 39 years at the NCAA. He said he plans to keep coming back every year to take in the event as a fan.
Poppe was the key intermediary between the NCAA's top brass and Omaha leaders, and he is credited with helping keep the CWS in the city where it's been played every year since 1950.
When Poppe started running the tournament in 1988, the CWS averaged under 15,000 fans a game and was played at a Rosenblatt Stadium that had fallen into disrepair.
Attendance steadily climbed, and Rosenblatt underwent $40 million in renovations over the next 20 years. When the city decided to stop putting money into Rosenblatt and build 24,000-seat TD Ameritrade Park, the NCAA rewarded Omaha with a 25-year contract that keeps the CWS in the city through 2035.
"I know of nobody who has done more for college baseball the last 20 years," American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz said.
Poppe, 65, also has been the longtime lead administrator for football championships, and he has run national tournaments for ice hockey, tennis, golf, swimming, skiing and wrestling. He said the CWS is most dear to him.
Seeing TD Ameritrade Park built on land that previously was the site of a railyard and rundown industrial properties, he said, has been the crowning achievement of his professional life. Restaurants, hotels and shops have sprung up around the stadium since it opened in 2011.
"I take great pride when I take a look around the stadium, because I know what this area looked like when we first came to the College World Series, and what it looks like now is unbelievable," Poppe said. "You want to come down here and be part of this activity."
Poppe said his favorite memories include having his wife and children come to Omaha with him for two weeks each summer and seeing the joy on the faces of players as they celebrated winning national championships.
"I'm stealing from (Disneyland)," he said, "but at this time of year, this is the happiest place on earth."
NO DUCKING THE TIGERS: LSU players love the A&E reality show "Duck Dynasty," and one of its cast members loves them right back.
Jase Robertson's two sons are friends with and played high school baseball in Monroe, La., with LSU right fielder Mark Laird. Robertson spoke to the Tigers before a game in March and presented them with an autographed can of corn.
He told them that the can of corn represented the "land of corn," meaning Nebraska and the College World Series. He said he hoped to see them there in June.
The Tigers keep the can in the dugout, and they shake it when they need a hit or a big play.
Senior pitcher Joey Bourgeois is keeper of the corn.
Robertson tweeted this week that he would do the best he can to be in Omaha for Sunday night's game against UCLA.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT: North Carolina and North Carolina State's campuses are just 28 miles apart, so it was symbolic that coaches Mike Fox of the Tar Heels and Elliott Avent of the Wolfpack were squeezed together in the middle of the dais for Friday's news conference.
"Could you all have set Elliott and I any closer together?" Fox said. "We're touching knees. By the end of this, we might be holding hands."
They'll see more of each other Sunday when their teams meet in their CWS opener.
WHAT DO YA THINK OF INK? Louisville coach Dan McDonnell left his options open when asked whether he would get a tattoo if his team wins the national championship. Cardinals basketball coach Rick Pitino, at his players' urging, got a tattoo after his team won the national title.
"Fortunately, I have not gone on record as saying that I would get a tattoo," McDonnell said. "If I had to sacrifice and get a tattoo, I would. But I'm just not going to go on record because I'll have to talk to my wife and my kids first. But it's not out of the question."
PITCH COUNT LIMIT: North Carolina coach Mike Fox scoffed at the notion that a pitch-count limit be set in college baseball.
ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson, who pitched for Stanford in the CWS and later for the Milwaukee Brewers, criticized Fox after regionals for having brought Kent Emanuel out of the bullpen to throw 51 pitches in a 13-inning win over Florida Atlantic two days after he had thrown 124 in a start against Towson.
Fox on Friday at first didn't want to answer a question about a pitch-count limit, but then said he would be against such a rule.
"I don't think it's necessary because I think there are college coaches throughout the country who know what they're doing and have the best interests of their players at heart, both on and off the field and after they're playing at their particular university," Fox said.
American Baseball Coaches Association executive director Dave Keilitz said most coaches use good judgment in how they handle pitchers.
"Where one pitcher gets to 100 pitches, that's enough. Another can get to 120 or 125," Keilitz said.
SHORT HOPS: Oregon State closer Max Engelbrekt remains questionable after injuring his back last Saturday in the super regional against Kansas State. Coach Pat Casey said Engelbrekt (5-1, 5 saves) has made progress in his recovery but isn't 100 percent. ... Mississippi State coach John Cohen played on the 1990 MSU team that went to the CWS, but Friday was his first time in 3-year-old TD Ameritrade Park. He was impressed. "I feel like Gomer Pyle walking under the stadium. It's like, 'Look at this room, they've got this.' The blue room just for hanging out, and then the locker room deal and they've got the (batting) cage room. I'm from Starkville, Miss. This is really cool stuff." ... Oregon State hopes it was on board the "championship charter" when it flew to Omaha. Its airplane was the same one that carried the Boston Bruins to Chicago for the start of the Stanley Cup finals.