10/11 Sports talked with Nebraska Baseball head coach Darin Erstad on a variety of issues as the Nebraska baseball team begins preparation for the 2013 season. Here's his responses.
Coach, tell me the excitement level the day before practice and how anxious you are?
We're ready to get rolling. The boys have put in a tremendous amount of work and now it's time for the payout. Now, they get the chance to go out there and get ready for the season and start playing games that count for real, I'm pretty sure they're sick and tired of playing against each other, so it will be good to see another color jersey.
How are you going to handle these first few weeks of practice before you get going?
Well, we're hoping that they're in very good shape because we have 17 practices to have a very high tempo and up to game speed, because once we start, there's no waiting around, we're going to have heavyweight fights right out of the shoot, we have to be ready to go. We have some of the best facilities in the country, for indoor work and we're even going to get outside a little bit, so we're going to be fully prepared and ready to go from Game 1.
So you're getting after it from Day 1, guys are in, and you're going to throw everything at them?
There's only one way to practice and play this game. We have a veteran group of guys and they know what's expected out of them, they know what happens on the first day of practice, so I anticipate them to be ready.
What do you think about the roster, the club you have coming back?
We have a good mix of new guys and some guys that have been around for a while, last year was a feeling out process, they didn't know what to expect, we didn't recruit them, we didn't have much of a relationship with them, develop those and they know what we want out of them, they've taken the ball themselves and did it on their own.
At the plate last year, there was a pretty good improvement throughout the season, you were able to make some strides with them in hitting. How much further can you take that this year?
On paper, it looks like we have a very good offense. I played on a few teams where we had 6 guys hit over .300, 4 guys hit 30 home runs, next year we went out and hit .250 as a team, but if we stick to our approach, and guys remain hungry and they know what we want to do, we should be able to put a few runs on the board.
What's the outlook on the pitching staff?
It was a slow progression last year, one of our biggest enemy was not throwing strikes and as the season went on you started to see improvement, guys were throwing strikes. One thing I'll say about our staff this year is they're pretty scrappy. They really like to compete, they're going to get after it, their personalities have started to blend a little bit, knowing what each other is looking for, they're on the same page and I like the direction it's headed.
Tell us about some of these new guys in transition, whether with JUCO or freshman, I know you have high expectations of the team, but what about those guys?
It's hard to explain to a high school kid the speed at which the college game is played at, even the junior college guys get frustrated the first game, the structure of playing, studying and weight lifting, and practice and then after fall ball they have a chance to get their feet underneath them. I tell them, 'Are you ready for the thunder again, becuase it's coming.' They tell me the same thing this won't catch me by surprise, we do our best to keep them on their toes, that's what happens in the game, you get caught by surprise, the game speeds up, things happen a lot quicker than they do in practice, and it's our job to have them ready for that.
Tell me about the schedule. You guys showed no fear when you wrote in some of those opponents top to bottom.
Let's go, I mean what are we here for? We're here to prepare our team to not only get to NCAA Regionals, but to host regionals and to get to Super Regionals and not just do that but get to Omaha and win the whole thing. And this is the start of the process, we have to be able to go into those tough situations and play at an elite level against top teams in back-to-back weekends and compete. Our guys want that challenge, our recruits want that challenge and we're going to give it to them.
How intimidating is that schedule?
I don't really care who we're playing, I'm not that concerned with it. The games I'm concerned with are the games against opponents that we think we should beat. Those are the times you stub your toe, again, it's just about playing our type of baseball, it doesn't matter who the opponent is, we're going to raise our level each and every game regardless of who our opponent is it does not matter. The trap games are the games that I'm more concerned about.
From a fan's perspective, you look at the schedule and you get excited because there's some pretty notable opponents that you're going to be facing almost on a weekly basis
I'd like to consider myself a part of Husker Nation, I'm a fan and I want to come watch them play, why not bring the best in the country, we're going to have those teams coming in here, we're going to travel to those places, we're going to mix and match, and make the home and homes work as much as we can, people have told me, nobody will come up here and play, and it's just not the case, you make phone calls, people will do it, we're given the resources to have tremendous facilities, the fan base that shows up, those are things for the teams that come in here and have a regional type atmosphere in either a mid-week game or a non-conference weekend, you can't find that in a lot of places across the country.
How hard was it to get those opponents to commit and I know you're traveling to some of those notable opponents, how challenging was that working the phones, trying to get everything in place?
This first year we had only 21 home games, and there was no games to be had that late, and I'm working on the 15 and 16 schedules, we're caught up to speed in that regard, it was kind of a mix and match, this year of how we did it, we had plenty of contacts between our coaching staff, we just kept calling and find a way to make it work, worth their while, it was actually kind of fun putting it all together.
What have people said to you about that schedule when it first came out?
Basically, what are you doing? That's pretty tough, that's exactly what I want. I want our guys to be challenged, I want them to have to see what we're going to face going forward and what level we have to get to in order to get to the promised land, because that's what we're here for. We're going to throw them into the fire, could it wait a year until we get our culture instilled and stuff? No, it's let's go now, we have to find out, not only from that standpoint but from the new RPI standpoint, we have to find out how many road games it takes in our conference to win to get to host regionals because at the end of the day we need to host regionals because the host team wins 70 percent of the time. I'm going to put my team in position to succeed and have a chance to get to the next level, but we better be hosting because the years we have hosted here, 6 of the last 12 years, 3 of those years, we've hosted a Super Regional after that, we did pretty good. So that's the formula we're going to follow, we take some lumps on the way, I really don't care, because at the end of the day we're going to get where we need to go.
You're entering your second year, does it feel longer than that that you've been the head coach, or about right, from a personal evaluation, where are you in your coaching tenure?
I've really never broken it down, I'm focused on the job at hand, I call it a job, but I get paid, it's been an honor and privilege to have this opportunity, I'm going to give it every last ounce of energy that I have, and I know our staff does, and the great thing about it is our student athletes are doing that as well, and that makes it all worthwhile.
I asked you about the Super Bowl. There's a kicker from Nebraska. Could you out kick Sam Koch?
Absolutely not. It's a good thing that I wasn't around because I would have been on the bench, he does a tremendous job, the streak of the Huskers playing in the Super Bowl is just fantastic, I'll be cheering for him pretty heavily.