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By Randy York
This is an historic night for a true Nebraska legend. Darin Erstad, who once toyed with the idea of being an NFL punter but made an infinitely wiser decision to play Major League Baseball, will fill out a lineup card. He will hand it to the home plate umpire and go back to his dugout in Peoria, Ariz. He will sit down and then count down to the first pitch of the 2012 college baseball season. No one in the country will be more wired for the curtain to go up than Nebraska's first-year head baseball coach.
Erstad has waited for this moment since Tom Osborne named him head coach last June. Forget Erstad's legendary status as a high school all-state player in baseball, football, hockey and track while growing up in Jamestown, N.D. Forget the ground he broke as a first-team All-America baseball player at Nebraska and the slew of records he set along the way. Erstad then spent the next 14 years in the majors, playing 1,654 games, getting 1,697 hits and grinding out a .282 career batting average.
For Erstad, none of that matters. He considers every single brush with personal productivity almost irrelevant. World Series champion ... big deal. Two-time MLB All-Star ...so what? Three-time Gold Glove Winner ... that was yesterday and yesterday's gone. Wouldn't you like to climb inside Erstad's head today and take his competitive temperature? Here's a guy who's been a great athlete, a wonderful role model, a good husband, a caring father and tonight is the first chapter in the next book of his life: Darin Erstad, head baseball coach for the University of Nebraska ... a destination job for a man who is perfectly willing to grab destiny with his old glove and keep the ball in his hand for many years to come.
In many ways, Erstad's first game as a major college head coach is the perfect scenario. It's against Gonzaga in a baseball complex that serves as the spring training home of the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres. Still, when the first pitch is thrown at 8 p.m. CT, there will be no TV and no Internet video ... tonight, tomorrow night or Sunday. That means your best bet is to follow Live Stats on Huskers.com and listen to Greg Sharpe and Lane Grindle call the action on our free audio offering. In between the action, you can enjoy Jeremy Foote's Nebraska Baseball Notes in easy-to-read format.
Darin Erstad has hit thousands upon thousands of baseballs. He has chased down countless flies to the warning track and has dived head first into home plate more than once. Now, before his first game ever as a head baseball coach, he must keep the controlled aggressiveness he held inside as an athlete and see how much of it has transferred into the hearts and minds of his first Husker team.
It's a long regular-season journey that begins with Gonzaga in Arizona and ends with three games at Michigan May 17-18-19. After that, it's the Big Ten Conference Tournament followed by three other dates on Nebraska's official schedule - NCAA Regionals June 1-4, NCAA Super Regionals June 8-12 and the College World Series in Omaha June 15-26.
Logic would say those NCAA dates are daydreams. But remember this: Darin Erstad was raised to love baseball, and he was born to dream. He took his first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame when he was a first-grader in Jamestown and made regular pilgrimages to the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, N.D. The little boy became a man, a major leaguer and now head baseball coach at his alma mater, where he helped Nebraska win the 1994 national championship as a punter. He enjoyed that experience so much, he now wants a similar experience in baseball.
It's a long, long, long road to travel, and Erstad's Omaha dream may not play out in his first year. But don't bet against him. The fire still burns in his heart. That's why this historic pursuit has rekindled his hopes and revived his dreams. Tonight, when you start up the fireplace at home, keep the radio close by. Listen to Erstad take that first step and see if his dreams of the future can match the history of his past.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Thanks for the article on Coach Erstad. Hope springs eternal in the breast of a Husker baseball fan. I have a gut feeling that in 10 years he will be considered Dr. Tom's best hire. I'm so excited for this season ... not so much for wins and losses, but to see how Coach's drive and passion are transferred to this very young team. John Beltzer, Lincoln, Nebraska