Darin Erstad was carrying a black baseball bat when he met with reporters at Hawks Field on Tuesday afternoon, prior to the start of the Huskers’ fall practice.
“It’s actually my cane,” he said. “I’m getting a little old.”
Age is relative, of course. Erstad is in his sixth season as Nebraska’s head coach. But that’s not the point here. His team is relatively young with 14 juniors and seniors among 38 on the roster, with five of the 14 new to the team – and one of the five who will sit out this season.
Matt Warren, a graduate student who transferred from Creighton, is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and the plan is to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility.
Such a petition can’t be filed until after the season.
A few familiar names are no longer on the roster, among them Jake Placzek, Steven Reveles, Taylor Fish, Jeff Chesnut, Colton Howell, Max Knutson and Ryan Boldt, a second-round selection in the MLB Draft. Boldt played in 174-of-177 games over three seasons.
“He was a fixture, that’s for sure, and a pretty good fixture at that,” said Erstad. “But that’s part of sports. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, there’s turnover, there’s change, and that’s the exciting part about this, hearing the new voices come up when you have guys that you’ve heard for a long time, and now to see new guys develop into certain roles and helping them develop, it’s exciting.”
Among the questions to be answered is who will develop into Boldt’s role as the center fielder?
The top three hitters, the weekend starters at season’s end, and the closer all return from a team that finished 37-22 and advanced to an NCAA regional, where they went 0-2, as they did in the Big Ten Tournament. That’s motivation for this season, said senior Ben Miller.
“I would hope it would light a fire,” Erstad said. “It’s not good enough. I mean, that’s not the expectation. We’re not here to just get a pat on the back and get into regionals. That’s not what we’re doing. It’s time for this group to take that next step.
“Those type of comments are what’s going to be needed to do that.”
Miller finished third on the team with a .317 batting average and 46 runs-batted-in. Jake Meyers led in both hitting (.326) and earned-run average among the starting pitchers.
The junior left-hander was 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA in nine starts.
Scott Schreiber was second in hitting with a .325 average and led the team with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs, despite missing 11 games, including five of the last six because of an abdominal injury.
The junior from Menasha, Wisconsin, “did all of our preseason workouts last week and looked great,” Erstad said. “He rehabbed for a reason and now it shouldn’t be anything holding him back.”
Meyers and sophomore right-hander Matt Waldron (7-3, 2.87) didn’t pitch over the summer, while closer Chad Luensmann, who had 13 saves and a 1.18 ERA, did, so the sophomore right-hander will be among those who are “limited here a little bit” in the fall, said Erstad.
Sophomore left-hander Jake McSteen is another who was “shut down” over the summer. Junior right-hander Jake Hohensee and sophomore left-hander Nat Fisher are back after missing last season, recovering from Tommy John surgery.
“We’re in a good spot as far as arms go,” Erstad said.
Luis Alvarado and Jake Schleppenbach are the other position starters returning.
NCAA rules allow 28 practices over 45 days in the fall, and “we throw a few skill-instruction days in there as well. We have 20 hours a week in those 45 days to get our lifting in and baseball stuff,” said Erstad. “So it’s a good amount of time to see what we need to see.”
Former Husker Pat Kelly has returned to school to complete a degree and is serving as an undergraduate assistant. “Pat’s now ‘Coach Kelly,’” Erstad said.
Kelly, a 12th-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft following his junior season, was a freshman Erstad’s first season as head coach. “It just means I’m old,” said Erstad. “That’s a first.”