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If anyone ever sponsors a best coach presenting his own sport’s marketing plan award, Darin Erstad wins it hands down. Nebraska’s first-year head baseball coach is in a league of his own when it comes to brutal honesty, the keystone of his masterful delivery at last Friday’s Huskers Athletic Fund Luncheon.
Nothing sells better than honesty, especially when the pitchman coaches a team that hasn’t even qualified for its own conference tournament the past three seasons, yet unabashedly declares why he not only wants to qualify for the College World Series again as soon as possible, but also wants to … believe it or not … win the darned thing!
After you read this column, please take the time to watch Erstad’s stirring video. It’s the only true way you can feel what drives a man who was a standout punter on Tom Osborne’s first national championship football team and now wants to be the first Nebraska head baseball coach to win a national title.
As much as I encourage you to jump on that video and feel Erstad’s passion, allow me to skip past his dramatic buildup and explain why he wants everyone who can to come Back to the Ballpark this spring. More than anything, he wants you to be part of a transformation designed to achieve the ultimate as quickly as humanly possible. (By the way, that's Erstad narrating the Ballpark video in the previous sentence).
Yes, Darin Erstad is your classic “shoot for the moon” kind of leader. Once you watch the video or hear him speak, you’ll think what I’m thinking. Even if he misses the moon, Erstad and his team are going to land somewhere among the stars.
The Full Cookie, the Dance, Winning It All
“I don’t want getting my foot in the door (in Omaha) and saying, ‘Hey, you get a participation award. Good job guys … way to get there.' No, we’re getting them ready for the full cookie, for the dance, for winning it all and jumping on the mound.
“That’s why I took this job,” Erstad said. “I got to be part of a national title in football, and I got to win a (MLB) World Series,” Erstad said. “I want to win in Omaha. I want to be there with 30,000 people wearing red and going bonkers in the stands and 35 guys in red jumping on the mound and me in the dugout going (opening his arms): ‘Here it is!’”
Erstad moved Husker fans to applaud several times last Friday, but painting the picture of his daydream at TD Ameritrade Park registered loudest on the applause meter. His from-the-heart speech reached a crescendo, but should be framed within the context of several Erstad observations that reinforce the Back to the Ballpark theme. They include:
· A declaration that trust, honesty and consistency will be the cornerstones of the road he wants his team to take to Omaha.
· A mandate that he will treat everybody exactly the same, whether they’re a first-round draft choice out of high school or a fifth-year walk-on
· An observation that associate head coach Will Bolt played on Nebraska’s first two College World Series teams. “I would be an idiot not to bring him back, so we can learn about the culture and how that transition happened,” Erstad said.
· An acknowledgement that even though Erstad brings plenty to the table himself (including Big Eight Baseball Player of the Year and being the first overall choice in the MLB draft), he said: “Back when I played, talking about Omaha was like talking about going to the moon. It wasn’t even on the radar screen.”
· A statement that volunteer coach Jeff Christy understands what it takes to get to Omaha because he played on the first and only Husker team to win in the CWS before working his way up to Triple-A in the same system as Joe Mauer.
· A kudo for Ted Silva being the best young pitching coach in America, according to almost everyone Erstad asked. “His name just kept popping up over and over,” Erstad said, pointing out how Silva was Cal State-Fullerton’s winning pitcher in the 1995 national championship game over USC.
· An explanation of why Erstad kept Curtis Ledbetter as director of operations from the previous Nebraska coaching staff: Because he was the first baseman on that first Nebraska team to win a CWS game and shares the vision to go beyond.
Everyone’s Been to Omaha except Erstad
“You see the staff I put together,” Erstad said. “All of them have been to Omaha except for this guy,” he said, pointing his finger at his own chest. “I’m selfish.”
He’s also fair-minded and realistic.
“Back to the Ballpark is our theme,” Erstad said, because his team is going to work hard, work together and play a tough schedule, so fans will enjoy watching them. “Back to the Ballpark is on all of our posters, all of our schedules and all of the other stuff, and you want to know why? Because no one has done anything yet. I’m not giving stuff to people. The cart will not get ahead of the horse here.”
Big Red fans appreciate such candor. They might have come to Friday’s luncheon wondering what Back to the Ballpark really meant. But they left understanding why Erstad embraces the campaign, calling it “great marketing … holy cow … that’s just fantastic because our fans feed into what we want to get done here.”
He Tells, Explains, Demonstrates, Inspires
Mediocre leaders tell, and good ones explain. Superior leaders demonstrate, and great ones inspire. Well guess what? Erstad reached all four levels last Friday.
He told fans how he was building the foundation, athletically, academically, strength-wise and nutrition-wise.
He explained why every position on the team is open.
He demonstrated why it’s his personal mission to get fellow Big Ten Conference schools to play tougher non-conference teams, so everyone’s RPI can go up.
He even inspired fans in the room to consider buying season tickets. Once you watch the video of Erstad’s speech, you might at least think about buying a 9-game flexible mini-plan package in either the homerun terrace area or the grandstand area. Darin Erstad, All-America player and now all-inspiring coach, makes a convincing case for fans to come Back to the Ballpark.
He’s fully aware that some may see his ultimate dream as setting expectations too high. “What else are we here for? What are we shooting for?” he asks, rhetorically. “We’re not here to rebuild. We’re here to win, and that’s where our mindset is going to be.”
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