Barbeque, Baseball & Grucci’s Fireworks

In 1985, the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series. They had been to the Series once before, in 1980. The Philadelphia Phillies spoiled that party. The St. Louis Cardinals to this day think the Royals only won in 1985 because of a bad call. I think great pitching and George Brett had more to do with it than a bad call.


It was the first World Championship for the 1969 expansion team. The Royals have a triple A farm team in Omaha. In 1985, that team was known as the Omaha Royals. Games were played at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, the Blatt for short. There was one night in 1985 that the stadium was sold out. It was on July 4.


In 1976, America celebrated its 200th birthday. A family from New York became very famous on July 4, 1976. It was the Grucci Family. They set up the an incredible fireworks display that lit up the sky over the Statue of Liberty.


I watched that display on a 16 x 20 inch color television. It was much like the television Forrest Gump watched the Grucci Family’s creation moments before he proposed to his beloved Jenny. Remember that scene?


On July 4, 1985, the Omaha World Herald hired the Grucci Family to create a fireworks spectacular that would amaze the crowd that gathered to watch the Omaha Royals play a baseball game. What they got was much bigger than anyone imagined.


It became an annual event for the Omaha Royals and the Grucci Family firework display. The event grew to the point of legends. I discovered it sometime in the early 1990’s.


I decided to take my family to Omaha for the 4th of July festivities. We decided to check out what the big deal was all about. The parking should have given me a hint. I couldn’t get within a mile of Rosenblatt.


I didn’t have tickets for the game, so I was only there to watch the fireworks from outside the stadium. As I was walking toward the stadium, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Any house owner with a clear view of the stadium was having a block party, a family party or just a gathering of friend. Some sacrificed their yard to earn a few bucks parking cars.


Everywhere you looked, you could see barbecue smoke, cheap fireworks or a game of baseball. These people weren’t even in the stadium but they were celebrating their 4th of July with baseball, food and fireworks.


Soon the sidewalks started to fill. Couples or families would drop a blanket right in the middle of a busy sidewalk to claim a prime spot to watch fireworks. About the time we reached the overpass that crossed I-80 and led to Rosenblatt Stadium, it was impossible to move any closer without a pushing and shoving match.


After we found a place to watch, it took about an hour for the game to end and the night sky to darken enough for the prime viewing. I never realized the preparation time it took. The set up took six days with eight pyro-technicians. I read they used 35 firing batteries and 749 firing cues. The whole display was orchestrated by computer to music piped over a radio station.


Once the spectacular began, everything stopped. All barbecuing, all baseball games, all conversation among friends. Amazingly, so did the traffic on I-80. Not a car of semi moved and no one complained. They were getting their money’s worth. Nothing moved until after Lee Greenwood had ended the show with God Bless the USA.


That first time, standing outside the stadium, got me hooked. For several years, I never missed a Grucci firework display at Rosenblatt Stadium. The only difference is I bought tickets very early and it usually included a parking pass.


I would stock up for a huge post-firework tail gate. I’d have a big cooler of drinks and my favorite food was a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the original of course. There was a good reason for all the food and drink. It often took three hours to clear the traffic from the estimated 100,000 people gathered in and around Rosenblatt Stadium.


Three of those games stand out the most. One fateful 4th of July I was on a strict diet. I remember almost dying watching everyone eating the hot dogs and fried chicken, while I sucked on a diet coke.


Another time, the 4th fell in the middle of a heat wave. I was deep into my middle life crisis. I had a little convertible and showed up early, of course. I was the only one that appreciated the early arrival as the thermometer climbed to over 100 degree by 2 pm, our arrival time. The game started at 6, with the gates opening at 4.


Finally, there was the game where the Royals pitcher took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. I don’t remember his name, but he was a small left-hander that was dealing one baffling curve after another.


The opposing pitcher was just as good, giving up only one run. The Royals pitcher gave up a hit in the ninth, but won 1 – 0. The problem was the game went so fast, it wasn’t dark yet. No one cared waiting, particularly me. I was back to eating chicken.


Sadly, Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium is gone, now a parking lot for the zoo. The fireworks have moved to the new stadium downtown. Gone are all the yard parties and parking deals. The Omaha World Herald still sponsors a fireworks show, but gone is the Grucci Family displays. I haven’t been back.

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