Omaha has been home to the Triple-A affiliate of the Royals since 1969, so both cities are gearing up for their 50th seasons. In that time Omaha has changed the team name twice: in the late 1990s to the Golden Spikes, and in 2011 to the Storm Chasers. Tuesday, Storm Chasers president/GM Martie Cordaro announced one more name change: on June 9, they will take the field as the Omaha Runzas.
For readers outside of Nebraska, a runza is an enclosed bun full of beef and cabbage, served either by the regional fast-food chain or a neighborhood grandma who made a batch of several hundred to share. Sarah Baker Hansen of the Omaha World-Herald described it as a “lovable warm bun stuffed with peppery beef, wilted cabbage and long-sauteed onions.”
The team will sell runzas from Runza Restaurants that night, and the jerseys of the baseball-playing Runzas will go up for auction after the game. The Runzas will not be the first team in the Minors to be named after food for a gimmick: The Fresno Tacos (Grizzlies) and Reading Whoopie Pies (Fightin’ Phils) have done the same. And of course, the Double-A team in Montgomery is permanently named the Biscuits.
At the end of spring training, the Royals will make a one-day stop in Omaha to play an exhibition game against the Storm Chasers. The game is scheduled for Monday, March 26 at 6:05. Season ticket holders got first crack at tickets; the remaining tickets go on sale today at noon. The last time the Royals came to Omaha for such an exhibition was 2000. For many Royals players, Werner Park will be familiar. For example, Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez both “stirred up the storm” on their way up to the Majors, and both have done rehab assignments in Omaha.
Major League Baseball may never place a team in Omaha, but the exhibition game comes at at time when MLB is evidently taking a hard look at Omaha as the future site of its draft, according to Kendall Rogers of D1baseball.com.
Another special 50th season initiative announced by Cordaro is a 65-foot long, 11-foot tall mural that will be painted on the outside of Werner Park. The team chose local artist Hugo Zamorano for the piece. Zamorano is, by his own admission, not much of a sports fan. But he is from Omaha, went to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and his young career is deeply community-based. He said he was a painter on several murals around South Omaha that depict different cultures that blended there in the city’s early days, as well as a piece in the newly-renovated student life office at UNO.
Painting of the Werner Park mural will start when the season starts, and the finished piece will be dedicated in early June. Cordaro said he likes the idea of Zamorano working during games sometimes, so fans can see the image take shape. Zamorano said he expects and welcomes that kind of interaction from curious onlookers. “It’s one of the most interesting parts of painting. Sometimes people come up to you and start asking questions. It’s all part of the public painting process,” he said.
Kansas City had a mural program in 2017, with six “Raised Royal” murals going up around the city.
More on the upcoming Storm Chasers season:
-The Chasers announced two memorial dedications, with ceremonies for each in early May. They will name their administrative offices after longtime Omaha GM Bill Gorman, and will name the press box after World-Herald writer Steve Pivovar.
-Some familiar promotional features will return, including Thirsty Thursday ($2 beers) and Wiener Wednesday (25 cent hot dogs; Bark in the Park). New this year is 50 Cent Tuesdays, with several concession items available for 50 cents.
-A series of bobblehead giveaways honor different eras of Omaha baseball, and the bases of the full set of five bobbleheads fit together to form an Omaha logo. The featured players are Jarrod Dyson (April 21), Mike Sweeney (May 5), Jeff Montgomery (June 9), Kevin Seitzer (July 14), and Dan Quisenberry (August 25).
-Various alumni from Omaha’s baseball past are scheduled to appear at Werner Park this summer. Mike Sweeney will be in the house on his bobblehead giveaway night. Other special appearances: Angel Berroa (May 25 or 26); Harold Reynolds (June 22); Chris Hatcher, Dwayne Hosey, Dave Ullery and Ken Harvey (June 24); Jack McKeon, Bill Beck and Bob Quinn (July 20), and Frank White (August 24).