And so it begins. The Nebraska baseball team is set to open the season with a double-header against UC Riverside in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday, first game at 2 p.m. (CT).
The original schedule for the four-game series with the Highlanders at Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, had one game on Friday, a double-header on Saturday and a single game on Sunday. But the possibility of rain caused the change.
The series reunites Husker Coach Darin Erstad and UC Riverside Coach Troy Percival. The two were teammates with the Angels, including in 2002 when the Angels were World Series champions.
He and Percival talk “pretty much every day,” Erstad said before practice on Wednesday.
“We’ve been in touch ever since we played together, and when he was going through the process of deciding whether he wanted to coach, he asked me, ‘What’s it like?’ And when he took the job, it’s like, ‘OK, how do you follow this rule? How do you follow this rule? What are the hours?’”
They were “just all the little things that I had no clue about when I started but now I can help him a little bit and . . . yeah, now it’s just the normal talk of two friends,” Erstad said.
Like Erstad, Percival, who’s in his third year at Riverside, is coaching at his alma mater.
Sophomore Matt Waldron is slated to start the first game for Nebraska, followed by freshman Paul Tillotson, senior Ben Miller and junior Jake Meyers. Waldron and Tillotson are right-handers. Miller and Meyers are left-handers. Meyers will play center field and lead off when he’s not pitching.
The most significant questions are who will play on the left side of the infield, with Alex Raburn and Angelo Altavilla likely the starters there for the opener, at shortstop and third base, respectively. Erstad indicated that redshirt freshman Ben Klenke would probably be in the opening-game lineup, along with Meyers, Scott Schreiber, Miller, Jesse Wilkening, Luis Alvarado and Jake Schleppenbach.
As for the open spots, “we’ll let them decide it on the field, see how it plays out,” Erstad said.
The Big Ten coaches’ poll was released on Friday, with Maryland on top followed by Michigan and Nebraska. The poll includes only the top six teams. Indiana and Michigan State followed the Huskers, with Iowa and Minnesota, the 2016 champion, tied for sixth.
Meyers, Schreiber and sophomore closer Chad Luensmann were the Huskers on the coaches’ preseason honors list – each team was represented by three players.
Meyers has been included on three preseason All-America teams as a third-team utility player. Schreiber earned All-America honorable mention last season. And Luensmann, the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, is among those on the watch list for NCBAW Stopper of the Year.
The Huskers are scheduled to play their first 11 games at neutral sites before opening the home non-conference schedule against Northern Colorado March 7-8.
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.