PAPILLION, Neb. (KMTV) -- Two seats in Section 118 stand out from the sea of green chairbacks at the Omaha Storm Chasers’ home field Werner Park.
One is wrapped pink for season ticketholder Connie Fischer, a breast cancer survivor. She still attends games with her family, who covered the seat after she beat back the disease in 2019.
The other seat is wrapped in Chicago Cubs colors for Jerry Strawn, a retired Papillion police officer and Omaha firefighter who died in 2015 while shoveling his walk.
Both have been key parts of a ballpark family of season ticket holders who started sitting together in 2011 when the Omaha area's minor league baseball club moved out to the suburbs.
Months after Jerry died, seatmates pooled together and paid to hold his seat empty. Former Sarpy County Election Commissioner Wayne Bena helped organize the effort.
He knew Strawn from having grown up with his sons and was one of a core group who got together behind the third base dugout and dished every summer on their lives, loved ones and baseball.
“It was a family,” Bena said.
“He got here first always, normally. And the rest of us had to (come from) work. He would say, ‘Hey buddy how ya doing?’ He made you feel like you were the only one there.”
Three in the group stepped up again during the coronavirus pandemic when Jerry’s son, John, sought investors for his Papillion restaurant, Papio Pit BBQ.
This week, Strawn’s son and family of seatmates opened a second location at Werner Park. On Tuesday, they started selling John Strawn’s brisket at a right field stand in view of dad’s seat.
John Strawn's eyes welled up before the first pitch. He said he could feel his dad’s presence at the ballpark.
“Opening the stand over there, you look from the stand you see the seat,” he said. “You look from the seat, you see the stand. It’s a full-circle, dream-come-true type of thing that is all about this section.”
The three families who invested – Bena, the Fischers and Papillion City Councilwoman Lu Ann Kluch – took turns working a shift on Tuesday. They took a couple of innings each to staff the stand and get it going.
Jerry’s baseball family said they had no choice but to help. They knew he put them together.
“He knew ... maybe his son needed a little help,” Bena said. “And he’s helping me. And he’s helping the other season ticketholders heal, mourn. And have a little more meaning at the ballpark.”
It’s part of why Bena and other seatmates still bring baseballs to hand to little kids — like Jerry did.
John Strawn said he couldn’t have opened a ballpark stand without their help. He said they helped him through some tough times in the two and a half years he’s been open. He said he makes sure his business hires former felons to give them a second chance like he got.
Before he sold his first plate of barbecue in the ballpark – loaded mac and cheese with brisket to this reporter for KMTV – he said he couldn’t have asked for a better Father’s Day gift.
His kids will get to see dad’s business in the place where grandpa loved to be.
“You hope you do him proud,” Strawn said, tearing up. “You hope you can live up to the legacy that he left. This as a son is a chance for me to do exactly that. I know he’s smiling.”