Q&A: Nebraska baseball assistant coach Darin Erstad

By Max Olson

Former Nebraska baseball star Darin Erstad won a World Series, made two All-Star teams, earned three Gold Gloves and made more than $40 million in his time in Major League Baseball. After playing in 107 games last year for the Houston Astros, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft decided his time in pro baseball was coming to an end. Erstad is now back in Lincoln as Nebraska’s new hitting coach, and he met with the media on Wednesday to talk about his new job.

Did Nebraska seek you out for this job? How did this all come together?
(Head coach) Mike (Anderson) and I met a couple years ago and we just threw it around that when I was done, possibly helping out. We had lunch here a little while back. He asked me if I was done with baseball, I said I was done. He wanted to explore the possibility of me joining the staff, one thing led to the next, and here I am.

Do you see a need for someone with your experience to come in and help this team?
Well, the head coach asked me to come in here and help him, and I’m more than happy to come in and help. I haven’t been around and I’ve only seen a handful of games. I haven’t really been able to make an assessment of what’s going on, and that’s not my role. My role here is to help these kids get better and get ready to play, and that’s what I’m going to do.

What challenges does this Husker baseball program face right now?
There’s always challenges; what the exact challenges are right now, I don’t know. I’m new to this whole thing and I’m really inexperienced as far as coaching. I was brought in to Houston to take care of some of the young guys and help them through the tough times, and I spent a ton of time in the cage with them and with the hitting coach. Over the years, you learn stuff. As you get older, you help the younger guys. In a roundabout way, I’ve already been coaching for a few years and I’m very comfortable with the transition.

What challenges do you anticipate you’ll face personally this season?
I’m sure I’ll see new ones every day. To sit here and know what I’m going to be up against, I have no idea. I think the biggest challenge will be, instead of stepping into that cage and hitting in that batter’s box, it’ll be watching. I’ve never been good at watching, even though I got pretty good at sitting the last couple years. The real challenge and reward will be helping these kids improve mentally and physically, and to see them go out and succeed. I know I’ve done that with some younger kids – to see them do things you’re trying to get them to do, they do it and they have a smile on their face and really buy into it, that just does it for me.

Have you met with any of your new players yet?
No. I’ve talked to a few of the kids who have signed letters of intent and have been drafted, just to help them with some information. For the most part, I’m still learning the whole recruiting thing and what I can and can’t do. I’m just really excited to pick the brains of our coaches, because they’ve all got tremendous experience. I just want to learn.

Are you familiar with what you’re working with here as far as the roster?
I know the names from what I’ve seen and watched and read, and I’m just starting to get into video of the guys to have an idea and get a head start, to know what I’m dealing with. But the real thing is, you’ve got to get in their heads and know what they’re thinking and feeling. You’ve got to get their terminology down and really communicate.

What would it mean to you to help turn this program around after a couple rough years?
I’m not coming here to lose. I’m here to help these guys get better, help fill those seats and give fans something to cheer about. To see the pictures on the wall of Buck Beltzer (Stadium) being packed and the transformation Nebraska baseball went through after I left, I just want to be a part of that. As we all know, the fan support at Nebraska is unbelievable. It’ll sure be fun to watch super regionals and College World Series with a bunch of red in the stands.

Will you split your time with the football time this time, too?
(Laughs) I don’t think I bring much to the table there.

How closely have you followed this team over the past few years?
You check the box scores from time to time. When I came to the games here, I spend more time on the slide out in right field than watching the game – I’m chasing the kids around. I’ll get to know these guys plenty well in a few weeks, and I’m just excited to get starter.

When did it hit you that it was time for you to step away from the game, to retire?
I kind of felt it towards the end of last year. When you’re on the bench and playing every once in a while, and you’re getting treatment just to pinch hit, common sense starts telling you ‘What are you doing here?’ Your body lets you know, and it was kind of gently hammering me on the back of the shoulder, saying ‘It’s time, Darin.’ It’s different for every person, and all good things come to an end. That’s how mine went.

Has it been hard to watch baseball from a distance this year?
Yeah, sometimes it’s been hard. Other times it’s been great. It’s the full array of emotions you have, but it’s probably normal. I didn’t expect it to be an easy transition. I’m accepting all of it and taking it all in.

Do you still have that itch to constantly be around the game?
Yeah, who are we kidding here? I’m a baseball player. My field of expertise isn’t something else. The least I can do is try and give back to some kids, and what better place than Nebraska?

Read more here: http://www.dailynebraskan.com/q-a-nu-baseball-assistant-coach-darin-erstad-1.2280853
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