Darin Erstad was named the 23rd head coach of the Nebraska baseball program - and the fifth since 1947 - on June 2, 2011.
Erstad took over a team in 2012 that had failed to qualify for the postseason the previous three seasons and was making a move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten Conference. While the squad fell short of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2012, improvement could be seen across the board. The Huskers have played in a conference tournament each of Erstad's first three season, including runner-up finishes the past two seasons.
The program took another step forward in 2014 when it returned to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid to the Stillwater Regional. Nebraska went 1-2 at the regional, with both losses coming to perennial power Cal State Fullerton. The Huskers finished second in the Big Ten during both the regular season and at the Big Ten Tournament, with a loss to Indiana in the title game for the second straight season.
Nebraska fans showed their passion for baseball during the 2014 Big Ten Tournament just down the road in Omaha at TD Ameritade Park. At the championship game between the Huskers and Hoosiers, 19,965 fans passed through the gates to set a NCAA record for a conference tournament game. Not counting the College World Series, it was the second-largest crowd to watch a college baseball game in 2014, topped only on May 13 at Turner Field in Atlanta, when 21,310 fans attend a contest between Georgia and Georgia Tech.
Nebraska was again one of the top offenses in the Big Ten Conference in 2014, while ranking 19th nationally in hits (623), 30th in triples (19) and 31st in batting average (.293).
Nebraska's defense was also one of the best units in the country in 2014. With a new starter at first base, third base, shortstop, left field and center field, the Huskers ranked 21st in the country with a .976 fielding percentage.
On the mound, Nebraska's pitching staff put together one of its best efforts in nearly a decade in 2014. The squad posted a 3.50 ERA, the lowest since 2006 when the Huskers notched a 3.40 ERA. It was also just the second time since 2006 that the Huskers have had an ERA under 4.00.
Nebraska's rotation of Christian DeLeon, Chance Sinclair and Aaron Bummer were at the top of their game in early April when the Ohio State Buckeyes paid a visit to Hawks Field. The trio each tossed a complete game in the sweep of the Buckeyes, marking the only time in DI in 2014 that a team had three players each toss a 9.0 complete game in the same weekend series.
Individually, Sinclair was named a third-team All-American and freshman Ryan Boldt was tabbed as a freshman All-American by three publications. Sinclair, Pat Kelly and Michael Pritchard were all first-team All-Big Ten picks, while DeLeon and Blake Headley were second team picks and Zach Hirsch was a third-team selection.
Three members of the 2014 squad were picked in the MLB Draft, including Kelly (12th, Minnesota), Hirsch (19th, Milwaukee) and Bummer (19th, Chicago White Sox). It was the first time since 2010 that three Huskers were taken in the first 20 rounds of the MLB Draft. Pritchard also signed a non-drafted free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
During his second year at the helm, Erstad continued to infuse his hard-nosed, blue-collar work ethic in 2013. One of the biggest improvements under Erstad has been the Huskers focus on defense. It was evident in 2013, as Nebraska set a school and Big Ten Conference record with .981 fielding percentage, which ranked second nationally.
The Huskers committed just 44 errors in 2013, marking its lowest total going back to 1985. From 2000-12, the Huskers had averaged 71.2 errors per season.
Erstad and the rest of the Nebraska coaching staff tested the Huskers with 16th-toughest schedule in the country in 2013. The Huskers got off to a rough start at 0-7 and would finish the year at 29-30, but were just a few wins away from the NCAA Tournament with an RPI of 31.
Nebraska also nearly won its first conference title since 2005, as it finished in a tie for second during the regular season and came within one win of bringing the Big Ten Tournament title back to Lincoln.
After posting a 15-9 record during the conference season, Nebraska entered the 2013 Big Ten Tournament at Target Field in Minneapolis as the No. 3 seed, where they defeated Michigan, 11-2, in the first round.
Following a second-round loss to Ohio State, the Huskers fell to the losers bracket where they knocked out Minnesota. The following day, Nebraska eliminated the Buckeyes and immediately had to play the top-seeded Indiana Hoosiers. The Huskers kept their season going with a win over the Hoosiers, as Tanner Lubach launched a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning.
The two squads returned to Target Field the following day with the Big Ten Tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Indiana proved too much, as the Hoosiers returned the favor with a 4-3 walk-off win in the bottom of the ninth. The Hoosiers went on to play in the College World Series.
Individually, Chad Christensen developed from a shortstop to an all-conference outfielder. After playing shortstop during his first three season, and being a first-team all-conference pick in 2012, Christensen moved to the outfield in 2013, where he was one of three nominees for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Under Erstad, who earned three Gold Gloves during his career, Christensen posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 124 chances and ranked in the top-10 nationally among outfielders with eight assists. Christensen saw his draft stock rise 10 rounds, as he was picked in the 25th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins after being picked in the 35th round of the 2012 Draft by the Miami Marlins.
Along with Christensen, Kelly also earned first-team honors at second base, while Pritchard was a second-team pick. Kash Kalkowski, Rich Sanguinetti and Headley all earned third-team honors in 2013.
During Erstad's first season in 2012, the Husker offense saw the biggest jump under the new direction of Erstad and Associate Head Coach Will Bolt. The Huskers led the Big Ten Conference in six different categories, including home runs (47), RBI (375), runs (413), total bases (916), on-base pct. (.384) and slugging pct. (.445).
The Huskers also made noise on the national scene, as they ranked in the top-20 nationally in seven categories, including top-10 rankings in both batting average and scoring.
After hitting .270 as a team in 2011, the Huskers hit .315 in 2012 to rank eighth in the country. The Huskers also ranked eighth nationally in scoring with 7.1 runs per game after scoring 5.4 runs a game in 2011.
With a more disciplined approach at the plate, NU had 106 fewer strikeouts than it had in 2011, while playing three more games in 2012. The Huskers also produced 150 more hits, drove in 107 more runs and hit 17 more home runs to lead the Big Ten with 47 home runs. No other team in the league hit more than 38 homers.
Three Huskers were named first-team All-Big Ten, including Christensen, Sanguinetti and Pritchard. Overall, eight Huskers earned All-Big Ten honors across the first, second and third teams.
Pritchard, a sophomore in 2012, continued his development at the plate and posted a 25-game hitting streak during the season-the third-longest streak in school history. For his efforts, he was named a third-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Four players from the 2012 team were picked in the 2012 MLB Draft, including 23rd-round picks Travis Huber (Minnesota Twins), Kale Kiser (Chicago White Sox) and Richard Stock (Cleveland Indians), who all signed contracts. Christensen was picked in the 35th round by the Miami Marlins, but chose to return to Nebraska for his senior season in 2013.
A two-time Major League All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Erstad spent the 2011 season as a volunteer assistant coach with the Husker program. In his role, he helped lead a pair of Huskers to All-Big 12 honors, including third baseman Cody Asche. Asche became NU’s first position player to earn All-America honors since 2006, as he hit .327 with 12 home runs and produced a school-record 27 doubles en route to second-team All-America honors in 2011.
One of the most decorated players in Nebraska baseball history, Erstad was a first-team All-American and finalist for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award in 1995, before embarking on a 14-year career in Major League Baseball.
Erstad wrapped up his professional career in the fall of 2009, after playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1996-06), Chicago White Sox (2007) and Houston Astros (2008-09). During his career, he helped the Angels to a World Series title in 2002 and two other playoff appearances. Erstad appeared in 1,654 games, while finishing his career as a .282 hitter with 1,697 hits, 124 homers and 699 RBIs. He was at his best in the postseason, hitting .339 in 29 career playoff games, including a .352 clip during the Angels World Series run in 2002.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Erstad spent the majority of his career playing for the Angels, where he won three Gold Gloves (2000-02-04) and was selected for the American League All-Star team in 1998 and 2000. He is the only player in Major League history to win Gold Gloves as an infielder (2004) and outfielder (2000 and 2002) and the first player in Major League history to win Gold Gloves at three positions (LF, 2000; CF, 2002; 1B, 2004). Erstad was one of the greatest players in Angels’ franchise history, as he ranks in the top five on team charts in eight categories, including at bats (4th), runs (4th), hits (4th), total bases (4th), doubles (4th), RBIs (4th), stolen bases (4th) and games played (5th).
His best year came in 2000 when he led the Major Leagues with 240 hits and finished second in the American League with a .355 batting average with 121 runs scored, 39 doubles, six triples, 25 home runs, 100 RBIs, 64 walks and 28 stolen bases en route to winning a Silver Slugger Award. That season, he topped the Angels in seven categories, and set franchise records for average, runs scored and hits, with his records for average and hits still standing entering the 2013 season. His 240 hits are tied for 13th in Major League history entering the 2013 season and were the most since Hall of Famer Wade Boggs had 240 in 1985. In 2000, Erstad made his second All-Star Game appearance and won his first Gold Glove, committing just three errors in 362 total chances in left field for a .992 fielding percentage.
Erstad was also active in the community throughout his playing career and was the Angels’ recipient of the 2005 Roberto Clemente Award for his efforts in the Southern California community.
A two-sport star at Nebraska, Erstad was a first-team All-American and Big Eight Co-Player of the Year as a junior in 1995, batting .410 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs. He finished his Husker career holding school records for most hits (6), runs (6), and RBIs (6) in a game; most hits (103) and total bases (194) in a single season (1995) and most career hits (261). In addition to his exploits on the diamond, Erstad, a two-time academic all-conference selection, was also the starting punter for the Huskers’ 1994 national championship football team, helping NU to a 13-0 record.
A native of Jamestown, N.D., Erstad played American Legion Baseball and hit .495 with 18 homers, 86 RBIs and 21 doubles as a senior. He was the state tournament MVP in both 1991 and 1992 and a three-time all-state pick. Erstad was a 13th-round pick by the New York Mets in the 1992 MLB Draft and earned first-team all-state accolades in four sports (football, hockey, track and baseball) in high school.
Darin, and his wife, Jessica, have one daughter, Jordan, and two sons, Zack and Adam.