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College World Series starts today in spiffy new ballpark

OMAHA, Neb. – The College World Series opens at the new TD Ameritrade Park today after 61 years at Rosenblatt Stadium, and coaches are doing all they can to keep their players focused on what happens between the lines.

There’s a lot of CWS experience in the eight-team field, with defending champion South Carolina and 34-time qualifier Texas among the entries. Still, the glitz of the $131 million stadium is bringing out the nerves – and not just in first-timer Vanderbilt and a California team that hasn’t been to Omaha in two decades.

Longhorns coach Augie Garrido met with his wide-eyed players in the outfield at practice Friday and said he gave a speech like the one in the movie “Hoosiers” in which the coach measures the basketball hoop to make sure his team knows the venue shouldn’t overshadow the game.

“Hey, there’s a diamond inside all this other stuff. That’s where we know how to play,” Garrido said. “The rest of it surrounds it and embraces it. But it was a little bit overwhelming, and in a very positive way. It’s a great endorsement for the future of college baseball.”

The CWS opens with Vanderbilt (52-10) playing North Carolina (50-14) and Texas (49-17) meeting Florida (50-17) tonight. Sunday’s games match California (37-21) against No. 1 national seed Virginia (54-10) followed by Texas A&M (47-20) against South Carolina (50-14).

North Carolina catcher Jacob Stallings, who played in the CWS at Rosenblatt as a freshman in 2009, will be behind the plate for the first official pitch at the new stadium. That’ll come from Patrick Johnson (13-1, 2.27 ERA) after former President George W. Bush delivers the ceremonial first pitch.

“This place, geez, it’s a big-league park,” Stallings said. “That’s what I said when I walked in. The old Rosenblatt has a ton of history but this place is just unbelievable. State of the art. It’s overwhelming.”

Sonny Gray (12-3, 1.97) will start for Vanderbilt (52-10), which broke through with its first CWS berth after losing a three-game super regional last year. The Commodores and Tar Heels, both 5-0 in the NCAA tournament, will meet for the first time.

“I thought this group could take a step forward,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “We’re fortunate to play here, and it’s a relief for some people. Now that we’re here, we just want to play ball.”

Texas ace Taylor Jungmann (13-2, 1.38), the Milwaukee Brewers’ first-round draft pick, will try to bounce back from a couple of rocky postseason outings against a Florida team that has hit a nation-leading 67 home runs.

Cal’s appearance caps a season that started with its baseball program on the chopping block, only to be saved by a $9 million fund-raising effort. The Bears, who won the first CWS in 1947 in Kalamazoo, Mich., haven’t made it this far since 1992.

“Any morning you can wake up in Omaha it’s a great day,” Cal coach David Esquer said.

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