In June 2002, the old man moved through the coveted blue lower-level seats of Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, smiling and greeting fans and coaches as if they were his royal subjects.
Rod Dedeaux leaned with his left hand on a walking cane fashioned from a wooden baseball bat, its barrel covered with the signatures of his former players at USC. There were the scribblings of Dave Kingman, Roy Smalley, Bill "Spaceman" Lee and dozens of others who had played on the field that lay before him, all in the cardinal and gold. With his right hand he signed "Fight On!" autographs, his College World Series championship ring glistening in the sun. He wore one, though he owned enough for all 10 fingers.
"I've spent so much time here," the retired head coach said of Omaha, "I always felt like someone might come and tell me that I needed to apply for a Nebraska driver's license."
Indeed, the Trojans used to own Omaha. More accurately, they co-owned it, sharing the deed with their biggest hardball rivals from throughout Southern California and Arizona. But for far too long, the college baseball loyalists of SoCal and the Grand Canyon State have been forced to watch what was once their personal playground become the host of championship celebrations for teams from the Southwest, Southeast, Northern California and even (gulp) the Pacific Northwest.