By Erin Sorensen
Darin Erstad has a goal. It’s not just any goal. It's not very creative, either. In fact, every Division I baseball coach shares it – win it all in Omaha, Nebraska.
Immediately upon being named Husker baseball’s new head coach, Erstad had a passion for the job. To him, it’s more than resurrecting a team once known for its regional wins and College World Series visits. It’s about far more than just seeing the field at TD Ameritrade Park in June. His picture is much bigger.
“I don’t want 'getting my foot in the door [in Omaha]' and saying, ‘Hey, you get a participation award. Good job guys…way to get there.' No, we’re getting them ready for the full cookie, for the dance, for winning it all and jumping on the mound,” Erstad recently told Randy York of Huskers.com.
A former Nebraska baseball player himself, Erstad has seen his fair share of winning. The 38-year-old boasts an FBS national championship as he was the punter for Nebraska's 1994 squad.
Erstad eventually wore a World Series ring while playing with the then-Anaheim Angels after being named Big Eight Baseball Player of the Year and being the first overall pick in the 1995 Major League Baseball Draft.
An impressive resume, but the one win he does not have may be the one of the sweetest to attain: a victory in the College World Series.
Some may say that Erstad’s desire to win a national championship is nothing out of the ordinary. After all, every coach is supposed to want to win it all. However, it is his determination that sets him apart. He is aiming to quickly prove that his talk of winning is more than just talk, but rather the future of Nebraska baseball again.
Transparency is a vital aspect of Erstad’s coaching persona, as he has not shied away from many topics. As a token of that open nature, he is also not afraid to admit that he needs help to make the short drive up I-80 happen. That aid is provided by the impressive staff Erstad has put together.
Two major components of his coaching staff are associate head coach Will Bolt and volunteer coach Jeff Christy. Bolt played on Nebraska’s first two College World Series teams, while Christy played on the only Husker club to win a game at the yearly event.
“You see the staff I put together? All of them have been to Omaha except for this guy,” Erstad said, pointing to himself, at a recent luncheon while acknowledging his staff’s talents.
Erstad’s demand to win should be refreshing for fans. It should also be met with cautious optimism. Even Erstad knows a College World Series victory would be an extreme overachievement in year one of a new coaching era.
He’s often been quoted as saying that 2012 will be a rebuilding year and a season to set all of his plans to return to Omaha in motion. He understands getting to TD Ameritrade Park come each summer will take time, but he’s not worried about a long wait for Husker fans.
With Erstad at the wheel, Nebraska baseball’s future looks bright. Team objectives are manageable, but defining. A personal one for the Huskers' head man is to encourage other Big Ten Conference schools to begin scheduling more difficult non-conference teams. That would improve everyone’s RPI, a key component for a visit to the College World Series.
Erstad has a different message for fans – Show up to games and consider buying season tickets. The march back to Omaha requires an army and he knows from experience that Nebraska has one in its fanbase. That’s why he has founded the 2012 season on the idea of “Coming Back to the Ballpark.”
There’s no proper way to describe how much passion and energy Erstad puts out. For the first-year head coach, it will likely be a wild ride, but one he is ready to strap in and take the plunge on. If Erstad has it his way, “Coming Back to the Ballpark” will soon have the Nebraska baseball team “Back Home in Omaha.”