Little things matter. That’s the message Coach Will Bolt and his staff have communicated to the Nebraska baseball team. Little things on and off the field.
For instance, breakfast together each day is mandatory.
“If you don’t go to breakfast, you’re going to have punishment,” sophomore Colby Gomes said before the first fall practice on Thursday. “We didn’t have that last year.”
Not that former coach Darin Erstad wasn’t detailed, but Bolt is a different kind of detailed.
“Showing up for breakfast, like getting there 10 minutes early, that kind of thing,” said senior Joe Acker. “There is a lot of detail-oriented stuff that’s going on off the field as well.
“So yeah, that’s definitely a little bit of a change.”
And suppose you miss breakfast?
“You might have to pay the piper, that’s for sure,” Acker said.
Such accountability is essential to the culture Bolt wants to establish.
“I think kids want discipline; I know they do. It’s just a matter of kind of giving them some structure and some things that are going to help them be the best players, (and) not only the best players but kind of setting themselves up for success down the road after baseball,” he said.
Beyond that there are numerous storylines, as is always the case, magnified by the new head coach, although like the coach he replaced, Bolt is no stranger to Husker baseball.
He was the captain on Nebraska’s first two College World Series teams as well as serving as assistant head coach under Erstad. He was an assistant to Rob Childress at Texas A&M the last five seasons.
Bolt takes charge of the carryovers from a team that finished 32-24 and advanced to the Oklahoma State Regional, winning the first game against Connecticut (8-5) before dropping the next two to the host Cowboys (6-5) and a rematch with Connecticut (16-1).
“Our season didn’t end last year like we wanted it to, so I think we all just had that in our bellies, just trying to get back out here and prove some people wrong,” Gomes said. “A lot of people last year didn’t think we’d get to where we were, and I think coming into this year, we’re going to prove them wrong, saying, ‘Yes, we can go to supers (regionals), we can go to Omaha.’
“I think that’s our biggest goal this year, to prove people wrong.”
The six top hitters, with at least 90 official at-bats, return, led by junior Aaron Palensky, who hit .320. The only losses among the regular position players were Angelo Altavilla and Alex Henwood. Altavilla batted .257, seventh, and led the team with 40 runs-batted-in.
On the down side, all three weekend starters—Matt Waldron, Nate Fisher and Reece Eddins—are gone. That’s where Gomes hopes to fit in, after being a reliever last season.
He was among three relief pitchers named to the NCBWA 2019 Division I Freshman All-American Team. He was 0-3 with a 4.09 ERA, but had 13 saves, including six in Big Ten play.
His earned-run-average in conference play was 1.00.
He also played first base. But he only plans to pitch this season, as a starter. “He’s certainly got the stuff to do it. He’s got the build to have the stamina,” Bolt said.
“We’ve got a handful of guys that we feel like can fill those starting spots—probably about six or seven of those—we’ll whittle that down, obviously, by the end of fall.”
That and evaluating the team’s talent at positions will be accomplished by scrimmaging, with a game against Wichita State, scheduled for a week from Saturday in Wichita.
Bolt’s message to the team has been to strive to be “the best versions of themselves,” he said. “Don’t try to be Superman, don’t try to be Mike Trout, don’t try to be Nolan Ryan—that’s dating, I guess, dating myself with Nolan Ryan—but just be the best version of yourself.
“I just want to see guys that play, I guess, with no fear.”
And with attention to detail, off the field as well as on, and even the smallest.
So what would paying the piper be for missing breakfast, or being late?
“Just depends,” said Bolt. “I mean, it just depends on how we’re feeling that day.”
If the players are held accountable, “they don’t learn, they don’t grow, they don’t get better,” he said. “So there’s nothing set in stone. I like to keep ‘em guessing.”
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.