Nebraska freshman Luke Roskam was ranked the eighth overall recruit and the top catcher in Minnesota his senior year at Chaska High School. He also pitched a seven-inning perfect game as a junior, during the section semifinals no less.
But when he returned to Nebraska following winter break, the Husker coaches suggested he give third base a try. It was “kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you some reps at third. Let’s see how that works out,’” Roskam said. “It’s worked out pretty well for me so far.”
Roskam has started 13 games this season, including seven of the last eight. And he’s been the third baseman in six of those seven games – eight of the 13 overall.
He’s played first base in the other five.
He considers catcher his “main spot,” said Roskam, who plans to play there this summer. “I want to get back to it, but right now I’m just doing what the team needs me to do.”
Plus, playing third base has allowed him to be in the lineup, which means getting to bat, something he’s done well. Roskam is hitting a team-best .326, with 46 official at-bats.
Unlike some young players, he understands his swing, according to Coach Darin Erstad.
“Sometimes young kids, they just swing and don’t understand what they’re doing,” Erstad said. “I think he has an understanding of his swing and how to make adjustments in his approach.”
That understanding has “helped his (learning) curve tremendously,” said Erstad.
Roskam likely will be in the lineup in two of Nebraska’s three games against Iowa at Hawks Field this weekend, considering two of the Hawkeyes’ scheduled starters are right-handers.
Roskam bats left-handed. Mike Waldron, with whom he’s been rotating, bats right-handed.
Iowa comes to Lincoln with a 20-11 record, including 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have won 11 of their last 13, the only losses coming at Northwestern last weekend.
Nebraska has won 10 of its last 12, with one tie, and is 20-11-1, including 4-1-1 in the Big Ten.
Jake Hohensee (4-2, 2.16) is Nebraska’s scheduled starter, with Nick Gallagher (4-1, 2.15) slated to pitch for the Hawkeyes. Both are junior right-handers. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.
Success hasn’t changed the Huskers’ approach, according to Roskam, “really just show up and take one game at a time, one day at a time, practice, take that serious,” he said. “You can never slack off at practice, so it’s mainly been one day at a time, keep moving.”
Roskam “caught a lot in the fall,” Erstad said.
“So that’s something that definitely we’ll look into. I’m not shutting the door on that, but there’s a learning curve at a college level to get used to, and we just kind of thought right now (in order) to get him in the lineup, probably a couple of other places on the field was the better way to go.”
Sophomore Jesse Wilkening and senior Brady Childs have handled the catching. So third base, where Angelo Altavilla and Alex Raburn also have played, offered an opportunity.
“It’s kind of nice getting to play a lot more than I was,” said Roskam, who hit safely in eight consecutive games he started before going 0-for-3 at Kansas State.
“But I’m just kind of learning because I never really played third before I got here, so it’s more of a learning process for me. I’m getting more comfortable over there, but (it’s) taking a little time.”
That’s to be expected, of course.
“He might say he’s comfortable, but he hasn’t got many reps over there. But to his credit, he’s worked hard, done a nice job,” Erstad said. “I’m the first to admit I didn’t think that’s where he would end up, but that’s just how the season works, you never know.
“We keep an open mind and try and find the right pieces to fit in there.”
The Huskers have found the right pieces of late.
Roskam has been among those pieces, at third base and first. Whether he’ll remain at those positions is another matter. “We’ll see how it plays out,” said Erstad. “He has the ability to play multiple positions, and where it is I don’t know. We’ll see where that’s at as far as who’s here, who’s not here.”
He might end up at catcher down the line, even though he knew he wouldn’t be playing there this season. Erstad was “straight-up with that in the fall,” Roskam said.
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.