Welcome back fans. That was the focus of Husker baseball coach Will Bolt’s weekly Zoom news conference on Wednesday after the Big Ten announced it would allow attendance at athletic events based on state and local COVID guidelines.
That means when Nebraska plays host to Minnesota for a four-game series at Haymarket Park beginning on Friday, fans beyond players’ immediate family will be on-hand. Capacity for this weekend’s series has been capped at 2,700 in the 8,500-seat stadium.
The last time the Huskers played in front of fans at Hawks Field, as well as the last time they played at Hawks Field, was March 11, 2020, an 8-1 victory against Northern Colorado.
Official attendance for the Wednesday afternoon game was 3,909.
“Obviously, we’re all excited,” said Bolt. “But I’m excited for our players. They’ve been through a lot in the last year, had a lot of things taken away.”
Fans in the stands provide “a little sense of normalcy this weekend,” he said.
It helps provide “an atmosphere where you can kind of sense the big moment a little bit,” Bolt said. For some players it gets “the adrenaline going a little bit.
“Ultimately, it just comes down to what happens between the lines. But at the same time, it’s always great to have just that extra excitement, the buzz in the stadium.”
Beyond game days, fan passion also helps Husker recruiting.
Like Nebraska, Minnesota won the Sunday game of a three-game series last weekend. The difference is, the Golden Gophers dropped the first two games of their home series against Northwestern to fall to 3-8, while the Huskers also won on Saturday at Iowa.
Nebraska came back from a 3-hit, 3-0 loss on Friday night to win 10-8 and 13-8.
The Hawkeyes “had us behind the eight ball on Friday night and we came back with a vengeance and played at a high level,” said Bolt. “It’s hard to grab momentum in a season if you’re constantly getting beat on Sunday. If you don’t finish the weekend off the right way, you just don’t ever grab that momentum going into the next week.”
Sunday games must be approached like “game three of the super-regional, how you go about your business on those days if that’s what your ultimate prize was,” Bolt said.
He calls them “championship Sundays.”
First, however, the 7-4 Huskers must concern themselves with Friday’s 2 p.m. series opener. Cade Povich again will start the first game, with Chance Hroch and Jake Bunz starting a Saturday double-header, beginning at noon, and Shay Schanaman starting “championship Sunday,” also at noon.
Minnesota’s starters were all listed as TBA.
The Gophers are “a little bit unique, I think, in the league where you see just about every team is playing predominately all upperclassmen,” said Bolt.
“They’ve had a lot more freshmen and sophomores pitch and play in their lineup.”
Sophomores have made seven starts in Minnesota’s 11 games. Veteran coach John Anderson, who took over in 1981, has used four sophomore and two freshman pitchers this season.
Junior Zack Raabe leads the Gophers and ranks second in the Big Ten in hitting, with a .484 batting average.
Junior Cam Chick, who’s hitting .250, was the Big Ten Player of the Week, after hitting two home runs and two doubles and driving in nine runs in the two victories against Iowa.
Freshman Max Anderson leads Nebraska in hitting (.349), base hits (15), home runs (4), slugging percentage (.674) and runs-batted-in (14).
“His plate coverage is pretty advanced for a young hitter,” Bolt said of Anderson.
“There’s just not a lot of places you can go to get him out. He can get to the pitch inside; he can cover the plate, (pitches) out over the plate.”
Plus, Anderson has “that demeanor where he’s just not going to get, really, too high or too low. And I think that’s just such a big part of being (a) consistent baseball player,” said Bolt.
In response to a question about what makes Anderson a good hitter, Spencer Schwellenbach, who’s third on the team in hitting with a .308 average, said, “You’re going to laugh at this, but he just doesn’t care. Like, he just wants to go hit . . . that’s the biggest thing.
“He doesn’t care about the result . . . if you can have that mindset at the plate, just take a good swing every time and don’t care what happens, then you’re going to be a really good hitter.
“And like Coach Bolt always says, having a good swing, he has a really good swing.”
This weekend, some Husker fans at least, will get to see Anderson’s swing in person.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.