A bond beyond baseball: CWS builds lasting friendships across U.S. - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:50 pm
COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
A bond beyond baseball: CWS builds lasting friendships across U.S.

You could call them intercollegiate friendships, and they are an important part of the College World Series.

Over the years, Omaha CWS fans have forged relationships with fans who travel here from such places as Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi to catch a little baseball in June.

Some of the friendships stretch back decades and turn the CWS into a family reunion with baseball roots.

The bonding often starts at tailgate parties when out-of-state fans set up a grill next to an Omaha group. Pretty soon, Louisiana fans are sharing crawfish, and Omaha folks are offering them tasty Nebraska beef and a cold drink.

Even though the friendships might start with food and baseball, they are about more than that.

Omaha fans and their out-of-state buddies stay in touch throughout the year. They visit each other, trade emails and phone calls, know the names of kids and grandkids, and send gifts and cards at Christmastime.

Two Omaha-area couples even went to the recent Louisiana wedding of the daughter of friends they met at the CWS more than a decade ago.

The friendships fit well with the CWS fan vibe, one fueled as much by camaraderie as competition.

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Here are a few their stories:

» John Nunez and his family are Omaha born and bred, but you'll hear some Southern twang if you stop by their CWS tailgate party.

About a decade ago, Nunez developed a friendship with a group of guys from Mississippi.

At the time, Nunez worked with a man whose brother-in-law is a big baseball fan.

That fan is Johnny Loper, an attorney who grew up in Mississippi, attended Mississippi State University and now lives in North Carolina.

Nunez hooked Loper up with tickets for the 2002 CWS, and a friendship began. Loper brought along one of his Mississippi friends, Jim Keith.

Loper and Keith have attended the CWS regularly since then, even when Mississippi State wasn't playing. Loper was particularly excited this year because his team made the tournament.

Over the years, Loper's other friends from Mississippi have traveled to the CWS and have been welcomed by the Nunez family, which includes John Nunez's parents, Jackie and Robert Nunez.

“We feel like we are part of the Nunez family,'' said Calvin Wells, who lives in Jackson, Miss. “They teach us something about Southern hospitality.”

John Nunez and his wife, Jody, pick up their Mississippi friends from the airport, take them to their hotels and give them rides to the ballpark.

The Nunez family also keeps its Mississippi fans well-fed with a tailgate spread that includes Jackie Nunez's enchiladas made from a recipe that's been in the family for more than 60 years.

Loper and the rest of the Mississippi gang help the Nunez family set up grills, tables, tents and chairs for the daily tailgate, and help clean at the end of the day.

The Mississippi group brings regional food such as boiled peanuts — a tasty Southern snack — along with catfish and venison straight from Mississippi.

Nunez's connection with his Mississippi friends extends beyond the CWS.

One year, Nunez and his wife traveled to watch the Husker football team play the University of Southern Mississippi and stayed in Jackson with one of their Mississippi friends who also got them tickets for the game.

Nunez stays in touch with Loper and his other Mississippi friends through emails and phone calls year-round.

Loper might send Nunez an email if the Huskers win a big football game or ask how Nunez's brother and niece are doing.

Nunez might ask Loper about the law cases he's working on or how his favorite hockey team is doing.

Loper said the Nunez family has helped him feel a strong tie to Omaha.

“It's a second hometown for us,'' Loper said.

* * *

» Charlie Geren didn't know anyone in Omaha when he arrived for his first CWS in 2005, but that didn't last long.

Geren and his girlfriend drove an RV from his home in Fort Worth, Texas, and pulled into Dingerville, the RV lot outside Rosenblatt Stadium, the old home of the CWS.

Derek Bees of Bellevue was tailgating nearby with friends, and they started chatting with Geren, a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

Pretty soon, Geren joined the Omaha group in a game of washers, which involves tossing flat metal discs into plastic cups.

Bees, Chris Abbott and their friends shared burgers and Stoysich sausage with Geren and his girlfriend.

The Omaha folks tailgated with Geren the rest of the series that year, and a friendship grew.

Geren began traveling to Omaha for the CWS each year to hang out with his Omaha buddies, although he wasn't able to make the trip this year.

Geren is a Texas Christian University fan and usually sets up a tailgating tent in TCU's purple and white colors. His girlfriend is a Texas Longhorn fan, and sometimes he'll put up an orange and white tent for her.

But Geren and his Omaha friends do more than tailgate.

Bees and the Omaha group will take Geren and his girlfriend to dinner in the Old Market.

“We try to show the best side of Omaha,'' Bees said.

Members of the Omaha group stay in touch with Geren long after the CWS is over, and they know about each other's families.

Geren had a chance to return the hospitality last fall.

Abbott is an Iowa State University football fan, and he and Bees stayed with Geren when they traveled to Fort Worth to watch the Cyclones play TCU last fall. Geren gave them tickets to the game and grilled steaks for them at his ranch.

Geren and his girlfriend are planning to attend the Iowa State-TCU football game with Bees and Abbott this fall in Ames.

Every year at Christmastime, Geren sends pork tenderloins to his Omaha buddies from the barbecue restaurant he owns in Fort Worth.

“On Dec. 20, you can count on it,'' Bees said. “We're tight.”

* * *

» Eleven years ago, Elaine and Jake Maus traveled from Louisiana to Omaha for their first CWS and were sitting in the shade outside Rosenblatt Stadium.

They didn't know it, but they were about to make lifelong friends.

Paul and Cindy Lewis of Omaha spotted the Maus' LSU gear and struck up a conversation. The Lewises ended up selling the LSU fans a pair of tickets near their own seats.

The Mauses then met Bill and Mary Swick of Bellevue, who are CWS fans and friends of the Lewises.

The Mauses have returned every year since and have developed a close relationship with both couples.

A few years ago, the Mauses daughter, Theresa Maus, began traveling to the CWS and became friends with the couples.

Last month, the Lewises and the Swicks traveled to Reserve, La., near New Orleans, for Theresa's wedding.

The Mauses also invited the two couples to the rehearsal dinner and back to their home after the reception for a little more shrimp and jambalaya.

The Mauses stay with the Swicks during their trips to the CWS.

Last year, the Swicks were out of town for part of the series but gave their Louisiana friends a garage door opener so they could come and go as they needed.

“We call them our New Orleans family,'' Bill Swick said.

The Mauses spend a lot of time with both couples during the CWS, and not just tailgating and watching baseball.

During last year's CWS, Theresa Maus went shopping for wedding dresses with her mom and Cindy Lewis.

The Mauses and their Omaha-area friends stay in touch throughout the year.

Cindy Lewis and Elaine Maus text nearly every day.

Like any good friends, Cindy said, they text about “day-to-day stuff,” such as a trip to the store or what their children are up to.

“I wish they lived closer,'' she said.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1122, michael.oconnor@owh.com

Contact the writer: Michael O'Connor

michael.oconnor@owh.com    |   402-444-1122    |  

Michael is a general assignment reporter for the Living section, covering a mix of topics including human interest stories.

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