With the record-breaking snow amounts piling up in February and March on the eastern portions of Nebraska amid the depths of the deep freeze, it’s hard to imagine playing baseball in the eastern part of the state.
But that’s exactly what Nebraska Head Baseball Coach Darin Erstad has to consider in his eighth season at the helm of the Huskers. Erstad made his annual visit to the Lincoln Executive Club on March 4 to set up and describe the upcoming season.
The Husker baseball team began its 2019 campaign by going 3-5 while heading west for a couple of weekend series in California, then Arizona.
The start of the season was a four-game series in mid-February on the West Coast at the University of California-Riverside. After going 3-1 on the road against the Highlanders, the Huskers struggled in the wet and cold conditions to get in a four-game series against the CWS defending champion Oregon State Beavers in surprisingly chilly Surprise, Arizona -- spring training home to the Kansas City Royals -- the next weekend. Unfortunately, the Huskers were swept in that series.
After the tough start in the unusually cold and foul weather, Erstad couldn’t help but feel empathy for his young team.
“I’m not one to make excuses, but between the rain and the cold, and not being able to take the field much, it’s hard for these guys to get used to playing outside,” said Erstad, who spent 14 years in Major League Baseball with the Angels, White Sox and Astros before retiring in 2009 with a World Series title (Angels 2002), two All-Star team selections, three Golden Gloves and a Silver Slugger Award.
“It’s a lot of things being thrown at these guys," Erstad said. "Traveling a lot, dealing with a lot. But they have to deal with it. It’s part of the process.”
The troubling weather conditions continued to plague the Husker baseball team during its next weekend series of games in Frisco, Texas. After winning 2-1 Friday night, March 1, against the No. 3 ranked Texas Tech Raiders, the Huskers dropped a tough one Saturday, 11-10, to Sam Houston State. On Sunday, March 3, the Huskers were to face No. 12 Mississippi State, but that game was canceled due to wind chills of 21 degrees in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas.
Because of the amount of snow on the ground and the cold conditions in Lincoln, the Huskers’ first home games had to be pushed back. Their home game against UNO at Haymarket Park was postponed, and the next home series against Baylor was switched to Waco, Texas, over the weekend of March 8-10. The Huskers won two out of three and brought their overall record to 6-7.
Typically, Erstad delivers his annual Husker baseball presentation to the club before the season gets under way. However, this year he had to postpone his visit due to a trip down south to Texas for the discovery and acquisition of a new pitch-recognition system he had been coveting. Erstad said he had been looking for just the right system for some time.
“This pitch-recognition system is the ‘Holy Grail’ of systems,” Erstad said about the device, which is completely mobile and allows the team to take it on the road. That comes in handy when you have long road trips with lots of down time.
Erstad said the new pitch-recognition system reveals pitch oscillation, determines the pitch being delivered to the batter and tracks the ball, and determines the best timing of when to get the best impact on the ball and whether the pitch is actually a strike. Erstad believes this device will be a game-changer for the team.
Erstad and the Nebraska baseball team had hoped to get their home schedule off to a good warm, dry start this weekend (March 15-17) with a series against New Mexico State, but the series was canceled due to this week's rain.