Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Nebraska's College World Series Years
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Nebraska’s College World Series Years

March 30, 2020

To say Dave Van Horn’s arrival at Nebraska was overshadowed would be an understatement. Media attention was focused on the end of Tom Osborne’s time as Husker head football coach

That officially ended with an Orange Bowl victory against Tennessee and Osborne’s third national championship. And state newspaper sports sections in December of 1997 and early January of 1998 were filled with Osborne-related stories before and after the game, understandably so.

It would have been easy to miss a late-December Omaha World-Herald story in which Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Byrne indicated he was “astounded” by the number of applicants for the job that opened with his firing of John Sanders, Husker baseball coach the previous 20 seasons.

No specific reasons were given for the firing. Sanders’ record was 767-453-1 (.629) with three trips to NCAA regionals, the most recent in 1985.

Byrne indicated the list of applicants included more than 100. His choice would be Dave Van Horn, head coach at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the previous three seasons. 

A friend at LSU had recommended Van Horn to Byrne. Van Horne was hired a month and a half before the 1998 season-opening series at Minnesota. 

Van Horn’s coaching resume included head-coaching stints at Central Missouri (1994) and Texarkana Community College (1989-93), where he also served as athletic director. 

His Central Missouri team won the NCAA Division II championship.

The 37-year-old Van Horn, who grew up in the Kansas City area, played collegiately at Arkansas, where he also served as an assistant for four years, and McLennan Community College.

“This is going to be more like a marathon,” Byrne said of the hiring. “It isn’t going to be a sprint.”

Turns out he was wrong; it was more like a sprint. In five seasons, Van Horn’s teams were 214-92, the highest winning percentage (.699) in school history. They made four trips to NCAA regionals, three trips to super-regionals and the first two College World Series appearances in Husker history.

Though Nebraska’s baseball tradition goes back to 1889, Van Horn’s brief time might be described as Husker baseball’s “glory days” – extending to a third College World Series appearance in 2005. With the 2020 season at an untimely end, Hail Varsity will offer stories related to those “glory days.”

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