Tigers, Royals rekindle CWS memories in Omaha

Field Level Media

June 13, 2019 at 7:23 am.

Jun 7, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd (48) pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Comerica Park. Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 7, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd (48) pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Comerica Park. Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday’s game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals will be the first MLB game played in the state of Nebraska. But that doesn’t mean that current major leaguers won’t feel at home.

The Royals will try to stop two ominous streaks. Following Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Tigers, they need to win Thursday’s game to win their first series since April 12-14, when they swept the Cleveland Indians. To do that, they must win the rubber game of a series for the first time since May 30, 2018. The Royals have lost 14 straight rubber games.

The game at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park will kick off the 2019 College World Series. Not only do the Royals have their Triple-A team in Omaha, with so many of their current players calling the city home for a period of time, but players on both teams played in the CWS while in college.

One of those is Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield, whose walk-off hit in the 2010 CWS championship game for South Carolina was the last at-bat ever in Rosenblatt Stadium, the former home of the CWS. But he’s not running for mayor of Omaha any time soon.

“Omaha is a weird city in my life,” said Merrifield, who spent parts of four seasons in Omaha as the last stop before the big leagues. “It’s given me the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. I loved it when I was playing in college, but I grew to hate it when I was in Triple-A. It’s a weird dynamic for me.”

Merrifield is one of nine players on the two rosters who played in the CWS, not counting Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire, who played in the 1979 Series with the University of Texas. Besides Merrifield, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon played in the 2005 CWS with Nebraska.

The Tigers have seven players with CWS experience: Gordon Beckham, Georgia, 2006; Nick Ramirez, Cal State Fullerton, 2009; John Hicks, Virginia, 2011; Brandon Dixon, Arizona, 2012; Grayson Greiner, South Carolina, 2012; Matthew Boyd, Oregon State, 2013; and JaCoby Jones, LSU, 2013.

“I’m a little surprised it took this long to do it,” Greiner said of the idea of playing an MLB game in conjunction with the CWS. “It’s pretty natural. A big percentage of guys in Major League Baseball came through the college ranks. For a college player to get to see big leaguers playing on the field the day before they take the field, it’s a pretty natural fit.”

MLB has seen success in playing in a non-traditional location with the introduction of the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., beginning in 2017. The CWS is next.

“We identified the first year that I was commissioner a number of potential sites to play games that were not in our traditional ballparks,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who took the role before the 2015 season, told reporters. “Omaha was on that list from the beginning. Our desire to be here had been strong all along; it was just a question of finding the right opportunity.”

The Royals will send right-hander Homer Bailey (4-6, 5.90 ERA) to the mound. He’s 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA against the Tigers this season. He’s 1-1 with a 3.05 ERA in three starts in his career against Detroit.

The Tigers will counter with the lefty Boyd (5-4, 3.08). Boyd is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA this season against KC, 4-7 with a 6.25 ERA in his career. He’ll likely be flashing back to his last appearance at TD Ameritrade Park, when he pitched a complete-game, four-hit shutout, helping Oregon State beat Indiana 1-0 in an elimination game.

“If that’s how it works out, it would be fun to toe that rubber again, even in a different uniform,” Boyd said in early May when asked about pitching in this game. “If not, I’ll still enjoy being in that city and in that stadium.”