How Omaha struck out on landing the College Baseball Hall of Fame

The banquet tables at the downtown Omaha Marriott appeared to be set for more than just the grandiose offseason college baseball celebration. The ritzy event felt like an appetizer, a possible precursor to becoming the permanent home of the College Baseball Hall of Fame.

Omaha officials had engaged in informal discussions with the College Baseball Foundation, the nonprofit leading the process, for several years leading up to the February 2023 event.

The longtime home of the College World Series seemed a logical choice to construct a brick-and-mortar hall of fame. 

And with a decision expected soon, Omaha’s turn at hosting the foundation’s 2023 Night of Champions, an annual celebration honoring the sport’s best from the past and present, felt fortuitous. 

Mayor Jean Stothert noted in a statement ahead of the gathering that Omaha “is uniquely qualified to showcase and celebrate the achievements made in this time-honored sport.”

Afterward, College Baseball Foundation Executive Director Craig Ramsey described it as “an incredible event.” 

It all seemed to cement the possibility that Omaha would further its legacy as the home for college baseball’s best.

Finally, earlier this year, the College Baseball Foundation made its long-awaited decision.

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On the eve of the announcement, there was plenty of back-patting and fine dining in a private room at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. Even Nebraska native Alex Gordon, arguably one of the University of Nebraska’s best baseball players in school history, feasted among the others. 

Only it wasn’t at the Sullivan’s in Omaha.

Instead, it was in a suburban Kansas City location.

Making the pitch

Former MLB pitcher Kyle Peterson has been a voice for college baseball since his playing days at Stanford in the ‘90s. 

The Elkhorn native and Creighton Prep High School graduate is a college baseball commentator for ESPN. He’s also chairman of the Omaha Sports Commission and a CWS of Omaha Inc. board member. Behind the scenes, Peterson lobbied for Omaha to land the hall of fame. 

But when the College Baseball Foundation formalized the process by issuing a request for proposals to cities in 2022, the tone changed. Cities no longer dealt with just the foundation but also the Phoenix, Arizona, based Huddle Up Group as a consultant.

“I would say it spun a little bit more corporate after that,” said Peterson. “I’ve had a long-standing relationship with many on that (College Baseball Foundation) board, still do and always will because they’re really influential in college baseball. But it definitely changed the process a little bit.”

Ramsey, the foundation’s executive director, said that change was intentional.

“We’ve got a bunch of volunteers on the board on a part-time basis saying, ‘You know what? We probably need to get some professional help.’”

Jon Schmieder, the Huddle Up Group’s founder and CEO, noted that all the bid cities were aware of the foundation’s partnership with Huddle Up “from day one.”

Despite the new formalities, Omaha submitted a proposal. And it secured the opportunity to host the 2023 Night of Champions, which historically rotated around the country.

After the well-attended event, Peterson gathered with other community leaders to gauge their interest in solidifying Omaha’s chances of becoming the home of college baseball’s hall. “When we got done with that (the Night of Champions), we were all on the same page saying, ‘OK, let’s figure this thing out.’”

The foundation’s search committee, led by Ramsey and Huddle Up, chose to be deliberate. 

“It kept dragging out,” said Peterson, president and CEO of Colliers International’s Nebraska office.

By May last year Omaha pulled itself out of the bidding. 

“I had somebody tell me, right when I started in the real estate business, ‘A quick no is a lot better than a long maybe,’” Peterson said.

Justin Queal’s mural off on the northwest corner of 17th and Cuming streets celebrating Omaha’s baseball culture. The city has hosted the College World Series since 1950. Photo by Joseph Saaid for the Flatwater Free Press

The College Baseball Foundation was founded in 2004 originally with the hope that Lubbock, Texas, would one day be the permanent home of the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Historical items, such as a bat used by seven-time major league All-Star Buster Posey when he played all nine positions in a game at Florida State, are in storage on the campus of Texas Tech University.

Two years after the foundation was formed, it created a ceremonial college baseball of fame and has named a hall of fame class each year since then. 

“When we created the College Baseball Foundation and the (College Baseball) Hall of Fame to go along with it, people said, ‘Why Lubbock?’” I said, ‘Well, that’s where we live,’” said Chris Snead, one of the foundation’s original board members and the vice president of operations and engagement for the Texas Tech Alumni Association. “It wasn’t anything scientific.”

Ramsey said the tangible presence of a building that houses the college baseball hall is necessary for the foundation to move forward with its other ideas such as educational programs centered around the sport.

“We’ve got more ideas on the wall than you can believe,” said Ramsey. “But you can’t do it all until we have this core hub of a physical presence.”

After distributing RFPs, Omaha and a handful of other cities submitted bids: Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Austin, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Overland Park, Kansas, in suburban Kansas City.

Before the RFPs went out in 2022, Ramsey said Kansas City wasn’t even on the foundation’s radar.

The winner and loser

Eric Olson, vice-president of sports and events at Visit Overland Park in Kansas, was an out-of-town visitor at the 2023 Night of Champions, intent on getting a sense of what he called the “gravity of the event.”

Olson started working for Visit OP in September 2022. Before that, he was a business partner with Schmieder at the Huddle Up Group. 

When he arrived in Kansas, Olson was well aware of the foundation’s goal to find a home for the hall of fame. After some internal office discussion, the Overland Park group entered the race.  

“We reached out to the College Baseball Foundation and the Huddle Up Group to ask for the opportunity to bid late because the window had closed,” said Olson, who at the time had been on the job for three months.

After the foundation and Huddle Up consented, Olson and his team made their pitch by Zoom in January 2023.

Olson attended the Night of Champions a month later in Omaha on a mission. He said he wanted to, “show that Visit Overland Park, the state of Kansas and our partners were very serious and intentional about wanting to bring it (the hall of fame) to Overland Park.”

The same month that Omaha officially withdrew from the bidding, Overland Park signed an agreement with the foundation to move forward as the selected site. It had to keep the decision under wraps until its official announcement earlier this year. 

A press release announcing the decision credited the “vision and united support from the community” – including financial support from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

The site appealed to the foundation’s search committee because it boasts an existing building with about 8,500-square feet of exhibit space. It’s in close proximity to a retail area with a high amount of foot traffic and a baseball recreation complex. 

Olson’s past business association with Huddle Up may have created an impression that the deck was stacked against Omaha and the other interested cities. 

Ramsey rejects that idea. 

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Schmieder concurred, “Honestly, there isn’t any such advantage given to Eric (Olson) and his leadership group.”

Ramsey added, “We stand for integrity of the game. You may not like the call, but that’s the call.”

Moving forward

The foundation hopes to have the Hall of Fame open by late 2025. Suburban Kansas City will also be home to the foundation’s executive offices.

But the organization hasn’t shut the door completely on Omaha. 

Peterson envisions a more CWS-centric display rather than all-encompassing recognition of college baseball.

“Omaha is a College World Series town,” said Peterson. “That’s what people in Omaha know. They don’t necessarily know the winningest (NCAA) Division III college baseball coach ever.”

The first games of the 2024 College World Series begin Friday, June 14, at Charles Schwab Field in downtown Omaha. Photo by Joseph Saaid for the Flatwater Free Press

The space the CWS of Omaha pitched for and still has in mind is within Charles Schwab Field, where the World Series is played. About 6,000-square feet of space faces Mike Fahey Street on the south end of the ballpark and is accessible to patrons from the sidewalk that surrounds the stadium. 

“I think when they designed the ballpark, it was intended to be potentially retail space,” said Peterson. “But it’s a real cool space.”

Charles Schwab Field, which seats 24,000 fans, opened in 2011 and is contractually committed to hosting the CWS through 2035. Peterson believes an ancillary benefit, such as a CWS display at the stadium, would enhance the CWS future in Omaha over the long haul.

“As a city, I think the more we can do to boost up the Series itself is only beneficial, moving down the line, because that’s going to get renegotiated at some point,” said Peterson. “I know 10 years feels like it’s a long time out. It’s really not.”

Peterson has a timetable in mind for the completion of a display in the right field space at the stadium.

“In an ideal world, it’s got to be open for the Series in ’26 for sure,” he said.

Ramsey also believes in the importance of keeping the dialogue open between the foundation and the Omaha community leaders.

“We’re committed to helping Omaha if they want to do something on their own or want to do something with us,” said Ramsey.

During his playing days at the University of Nebraska, Gordon earned some of the sport’s greatest accolades. It was enough to earn him a spot in the future Kansas City area hall of fame last February.

He knows that some Nebraskans will bristle at learning he helped Kansas City instead of his home state.

“I felt bad that I was rooting for Kansas City over Nebraska,” said Gordon, who played his entire MLB career in Kansas City and still lives in the area.

But he added with a laugh, “I was a Lincoln guy, not an Omaha guy.”

By Greg Echlin

Greg Echlin is a freelance writer and public media reporter based in Kansas City. He was recognized by the Public Media Journalists Association in June 2024, capturing first place in the Best Sports Feature category among comparable market-sized cities. He covered his first College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium in 1988 when Stanford won its last NCAA baseball championship and again in 1997 when Omaha’s Kyle Peterson pitched for the Stanford Cardinal. His first trip to Omaha was for the 1977 NCAA basketball tournament at the old Civic Auditorium. He continues to regularly travel to Omaha for sports coverage.


I’m not surprised, due to Omaha gouging fans and family with exorbitant hotel prices,etc. The lack of baseball coverage in the OWH newspaper.
I love baseball and especially the College World Series and feel a considerate welcome and reputation would go further than greed.

“It’s in close proximity to a retail area with a high amount of foot traffic and a baseball recreation complex.”
No, no it’s not. I’m a former Omahan, and live about 3 miles from this location in Overland Park. There’s no nearby baseball. There’s a movie theater and a few restaurants, but that’s it. It’s an island upscale shopping area. This is the dumbest of dumb locations they could come up with — even in this area. You could have made an argument for putting it at The Legends in KCK, I suppose — near a minor league stadium. But in rando shopping mall in Overland Park — home of zero colleges and zero baseball? Just plain stupid.

Perhaps you should pull up google maps and look 3 miles to the west of Prairiefire where there are 24 diamonds that have numerous youth baseball/softball tournaments and leagues accounting for 750,000 visitors…

Why not open a hall of fame in Omaha regardless of what the Huddle insiders want to have done? Get a non-profit started in Omaha/Nebraska–yeah, and even in Alex Gordon’s hometown even if he’s a “Lincoln guy and not an Omaha guy.” I thought we were all Nebraskans. Why roll over and play dead?

I would like to hear more about why Omaha decided to remove itself from the bidding. I don’t fully understand that decision, and “A quick no is a lot better than a long maybe” feels like a reverse-engineered justification rather than a sound strategy.



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