Randy York’s N-Sider
Darin "Ersty" Erstad may have short-hopped the official opening pitch for the first-ever Husker Night at Kaufmann Stadium Saturday night in Kansas City, but let the record show that his third-inning performance in the FOX Sports television booth was nothing short of perfection. While connecting with former Anaheim Angels’ announcer Steve Physioc and one-time Angel teammate Rex Hudler, Erstad circled the bases for Alex "Gordo" Gordon and the Royals every bit as much as he bolstered Nebraska baseball. Meanwhile, Gordon, who caught Erstad’s opening pitch Saturday night, took a day off to be with wife Jamie, who delivered the couple’s second boy, Sam Patrick Gordon, on Monday afternoon.
Ersty – the affectionate nickname Hudler uses whenever he talks to Erstad – was in game day form for Saturday night’s barrage of observations and questions while the Royals battled in the midst of their best regular-season streak in 24 years (KC is also the only major league team not to lose a series since the All-Star game). Perhaps that’s why Herbie Husker and Slugger, NU’s and KC’s respective mascots, acted like cousins. Erstad and Hudler, of course, were in sync as well, and their repartee was made for television because the viewer could watch the action throughout their inspired and friendly discussion. Physioc couldn’t resist asking his broadcast partner why Erstad lasted so long in Major League Baseball. “He was all eyes and ears … no mouth!” Hudler said. “He played the game the way you hope your kids would play the game … very serious and very intense.” Sometimes, the older Hudler had to say: “Ersty, it’s okay, man … relax a little bit.”
TV Shows Ersty as a Husker and an Angel
Suddenly, up pops Erstad's photo in his Nebraska baseball uniform in 1994, the same year he was the punter on the Huskers’ national championship football team. After that, there’s a photo of Erstad as an Angel with a caption that reflects his career .282 batting average and 124 major league homeruns. Because Erstad was an All-Star and multiple Gold Glove winner, not to mention a heroic figure on a World Series championship team, Physioc remembers thinking how “people will be standing in line” to hire him as a major league coach after his playing career ended. Family, however, was Erstad’s priority, just as it is now, and he relishes his role as head coach at his alma mater because “I’m in position now to give back and affect kids’ lives in a positive way,” he said.
That statement became the perfect bridge for Physioc to draw some comparisons between Erstad and Gordon, who snagged his short-hopper first pitch so quickly and deftly that many fans didn’t even notice it hit ground before glove. “Alex lives in Lincoln, loves the University of Nebraska and likes to go to all the football games. He’s a little like you … a determined mentality … a guy with a football mentality playing baseball,” Physioc said.
“Gordo's like me,” Erstad said, “but only when I go into the office at 7 in the morning, and he’s already in the cage hitting. He’s always working when nobody’s looking. He has that, and you can see it working for him on the field and off the field. He has his name on the door of our new indoor facility, and he’s just a tremendous guy to have around.”
Competition between Gold Glove Huskers
Erstad doesn’t see “anyone taking Gordo’s Gold Glove away from him” because he’s “just too solid” to let such a thing happen. “It’s pretty impressive that he played infield, then switched to the outfield and won a Gold Glove. That’s not easy,” Erstad said with a laugh while admitting Gordon is going to have to get a Gold Glove in the infield, too, before “I give him too much credit.”
That triggered another Hudler question. “Are you the only player in baseball to win a Gold Glove at first base and centerfield?” he asked. “I think so,” Erstad answered. “You’re the only one who’s been in this game for that many years to do that?” Hudler asked. “How do you transfer that to your players now?”
The answer: “You have to work hard and work on all parts of the game,” said Erstad, who calls Nebraska “a special place” that continuously motivates him to recruit, so he can prove skeptics wrong build the foundation for his ultimate goal – win the College World Series in Omaha.
Wanted: Kids Armed with Motors, Respect
“We’re looking for kids who are special and have that high motor,” Erstad said. “It’s so refreshing to look in the eye of a kid. I had that look in my day and now I can get others ready to chase their dream. I’m not looking for guys who want to choose what they’re good at. I’m looking for guys who want to be good in every way they can. At Nebraska,we believe in the whole player.”
According to Erstad, growing up in North Dakota and attending Nebraska prepared him to seize the opportunity MLB presented. “I worked my tail off,” he said, adding that Gordon has reached his heights using the same kind of work ethic. Somehow, both Royal announcers found a way to pique one of Erstad's hottest button about what it takes to play in the bigs.
“I don’t talk much about playing in the big leagues because everybody’s equal when they get there,” Erstad said. “At the end of the day, I can’t tell you what kind of stats people have or how many homers they have, but I can tell what kind of person they were, and I can tell you how they treated their teammates, how they were in the clubhouse and how they treated people off the field. That’s the biggest life lesson – how you treat people, and that’s the truth.”
Bottom Line: Gordo Works, Plays Like Ersty
That same thought was featured on Sunday’s telecast when Physioc and Hudler aligned Erstad's observation with a catch that bounced Gordon off the left field wall. The Royals' announcers compared Gordon's all-out effort to Erstad’s constant hustle and true grit, pointing out that years from now, people will forget Gordon’s batting average and his Gold Gloves, but they’ll always remember his commitment to character and how he treats everyone around him … the Nebraska Way, the Erstad way.
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