For more than three decades, the Servais family has been inextricably linked with Omaha, an association that comes to the forefront every year when the College World Series takes place.
OMAHA – In 2002, Scott Servais was 35 years old, his major-league career behind him, hanging on in Class AAA with the Rockies’ affiliate in Colorado Springs.
With the team in Oklahoma City in June, Servais approached Colorado Springs manager Chris Cron and told him he was done. This would be the last game of his professional career.
“It was just time,’’ he said.
After the game, officially retired, Servais rented a car and drove the seven hours from Oklahoma City to Omaha, where his son, Tyler, was participating in a youth tournament, which the newly unencumbered Servais helped coach. The College World Series was also going on, and with his entire family in tow, Servais soaked in the spectacle of the event for the first time, though Omaha had been a formative place in his career.
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“I’ve been to Super Bowls and World Series, but the College World Series is unique,’’ Servais said. “It’s a constant rush – tailgating, motor homes, all the youth tournaments going on, the different fans from all over the country. It’s like you’re at a football game.”
For more than three decades, the Servais family has been inextricably linked with Omaha, an association that comes to the forefront every year when the College World Series takes place. The official host of the CWS is Creighton University, located just up the street from TD Ameritrade Park, where the games have been played since legendary Rosenblatt Stadium was torn down a few years ago.
And the head baseball coach at Creighton for the past 15 years, the winningest coach in school history, is Ed Servais – Scott’s uncle. One of its most prominent baseball alumni is Scott Servais, an All-American catcher and U.S. Olympian during his Creighton tenure from 1986-88.
Washington’s first-time inclusion this year piqued Scott Servais’ interest even more, and led him to reminisce with me on their recent homestand about his Omaha roots. I talked as well with Ed, who reflects the entire Servais family’s pride in Scott’s achievements.
“It’s kind of surreal in many ways,’’ said Ed Servais. “We all come very humble beginnings. We never had a ton of stuff as kids, and to see him become one of 30 major-league managers is very special. We’re so happy he’s done it the right way, too. Scott has always carried himself the right way.”
How Scott got from the tiny village (population: 765) of Coon Valley, Wisc., where the Servais family has its roots, to Omaha, is a story in itself.
Scott’s grandfather, also named Ed Servais, ran a farm implement store in town called Coon Valley Dairy Supply, which he eventually passed down to two of his eight sons, Bob and Dan – the latter being Scott Servais’s dad. And just recently, Bob and Dan retired and sold the business, which expanded over the years to sell hardware and appliances, to Bob’s son, so it stays in the family.
Coon Valley, said the younger Ed Servais, is a typical small town – “one grocery store, a couple of gas stations, and wonderful people who all knew each other and took care of each other.”
Scott’s baseball talents revealed themselves early, said his uncle, Ed, who is nine years older. When he would babysit and play catch with nephews, Scott was the one with both the natural talent and the desire to hone his skills.
“His ability to concentrate is something I’ll never forget,’’ Ed said. “He was trying to figure out how to do it well at a very young age.”
And Scott had two ready tutors in Ed, who had been a college player, and another uncle, Mark, who is a long-time Cubs scout and the proud possessor of a World Series ring from 2016. Dan Servais, Scott’s dad, was immersed in the store with his wife, Meribeth, and not as strongly baseball oriented as his brothers, but he contributed to Servais’ athletic development as well.
“His dad was a hell of a wrestler,’’ Ed said. “What Scott learned from his father was maybe not baseball skills but competitiveness. If you know anything about wrestling, you need to be competitive.”
Scott became a star at Westby High School and began to draw the attention of scouts. He was recruited by the likes of Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin, but Creighton was not at all on his radar – until Jim Hendry entered the picture.
Hendry, who would later become general manager of the Cubs, had just taken over as the head coach at Creighton and was looking to beef up his roster. Hendry and Mark Servais were acquainted, and Mark talked up his nephew so much – as did another area scout who was best friends with Mark — that Hendry gave a call.
“Back then, they didn’t have showcases, so college coaches were really tied into area scouts,’’ Scott Servais recalled. “Quite frankly, I got offered a scholarship in Omaha and Jim Hendry never saw me play. He was going off recommendations, not just from my uncle but other scouts that had seen me.
“If you know Jim Hendry, you know he can really sell. He convinced me I was going south to play baseball, because I was coming from Wisconsin and going to Omaha.”
Servais wound up being drafted in the second round by the Mets in the ’85 draft out of high school, but after a family discussion, they decided he wasn’t quite ready for the pro game. Creighton turned out to be the perfect spot, both academically and athletically. Though the Bluejays never made it to the College World Series while he was there – the school’s lone appearance would come three years after Servais graduated, with many players that had been his teammates or he helped recruit – he thrived at the school.
“It was a good fit for me,’’ he said. “We played in the Missouri Valley Conference at the time with Wichita State, Southern Illinois and other teams. It was probably a little better baseball at that time than the Big Ten.
Servais moved into pro ball with the Cubs as a third-round pick in 1988 and began his 11-year major-league career three years later. Meanwhile, his college roommate, Jack Daum, stayed at Creighton to coach, and eventually took over the program as head coach. When Daum needed an assistant, he hired a young coach at Iowa State – Ed Servais. And when Daum was let go, Ed Servais became head coach in 1998 and has been at the Omaha school ever since, taking them to four NCAA tournaments.
Scott, meanwhile, went into scouting, player development and front-office work when his career ended, but he would often end up at Creighton to hang out with Ed. His uncle was one of the first to learn that Scott’s burning desire was not to become a general manager, as everyone assumed, but a manager.
“When he told me, I said, ‘Do you want to go to A ball and manage?’” Ed recalled. “He said no, ‘I’ll find a way to be either a bench coach or manager.’ One thing about Scott, I’ve never doubted him. When he put his mind to something, he did it. Lo and behold, he became a major-league manager with no experience, just as he said. It’s pretty cool.”
Servais’ Omaha link this year had ripples to Montlake. In 2011, the son of Huskies coach Lindsay Meggs, Joe Meggs, was teammates with Scott’s son, Tyler Servais, on the Lacrosse, Wisc., team in the Northwoods summer league (which was managed by Andy McKay, the Mariners’ minor-league director).
Meggs and Servais developed a friendship while watching their kids play, and Servais was thrilled when the Huskies qualified for Omaha for the first time in school history. And speaking of Omaha, one of Ed Servais’ current Creighton players is Andrew Meggs, a redshirt freshman infielder and Lindsay’s nephew.
It’s a small baseball world sometimes. And the epicenter, particularly for the Servaises, is often Omaha.