Nebraska coach Darin Erstad has never been afraid to admit that the way he manages a baseball team is modeled after Mike Scioscia’s approach.
And Scioscia’s always a phone call away.
The bond between the two started in 2000 when Scioscia took over as manager of the Los Angeles Angels, a position he still holds. Erstad played for seven seasons under Scioscia, a two-time AL manager of the year.
They won a World Series together in 2002. Back-to-back division titles, too.
It’s no surprise that Erstad invited his mentor to Lincoln, where Scioscia spoke to the team and Husker fans at Friday’s Nebraska baseball banquet. Scioscia will also speak at the NU coaches clinic Saturday.
Why did Scioscia agree to it? Well, read below and you’ll quickly realize how much respect he has for Erstad.
World-Herald: What was your first impression of Darin?
Scioscia: Ersty? A number of things. First of all, the physical ability speaks for itself. I’d never really been around Darin — I was coaching with the Dodgers when he came on board with the Angels, was drafted and was in the big leagues very soon. You could see the physical talent. But until you get in the clubhouse with him, until you get on the practice field with him, until you get into a game situation with him, you don’t really appreciate how much he really means to the team. At the start of spring training in 2000, you could quickly see that Ersty was a special player and a special person. And there’s no doubt he was the foundation of those championship teams.
WH: Coach Erstad tells the story that on one of the first days of spring training in 2000, you told the players they were going to win a championship. This was a team that hadn’t won it, didn’t make the playoffs (not since 1986). Why approach it like that?
Scioscia: In baseball, there’s no such thing as a rebuilding year. Not at the professional level. It might end up being that way. After the season’s over, you look back and go, OK, now there’s some strides here. You’re starting every spring training with one goal in mind: to win a world championship. That’s the only way you’re going to get better, the only way you’re going to move forward, the only way you’re going to evaluate talent the way you need to. That has to be the directive of every major league staff, and it certainly was for us. And I think in Darin’s case, here at Nebraska, he has to think he’s getting to Omaha and they’re going to win the championship. Every time you have a meeting, every time you take the field for practice, that has to be your focus. It has to be your direction. I know he has that in him. I’m sure he’s infusing it in those guys that are on the club now. And they’ll play at a high level.
WH: When you say that to the guys — obviously they’re all professionals and they want the same things you do. But are they like, ‘Ya, sure, coach?’ Or do they really buy in?
Scioscia: When I was hired by the Angels, they had a great core of talented players. ... The unique talent that was there, it just wasn’t brought together and wasn’t meshed the way it could. All those guys had confidence they could play, and play at a high level. We just had to put them in the right place, set the environment and let those guys bond as a team and believe in themselves. (It was) not tough to do. Those guys, they felt they were good.
WH: How much of the college game do you watch?
Scioscia: My son (Matt) just played at the University of Notre Dame for four years, so I’ve seen it firsthand, what the college game is. In southern California, there’s some terrific programs right around where we play in Anaheim. You build a relationship with coaches, you build a relationship with players, and you get a better understanding of the college game.
WH: There have been some changes lately, the biggest one being the (new composite) bats. Have you seen the game grow?
Scioscia: I’d like to see the college game go back to wood bats.
Scioscia: Absolutely. I think that’s what this game is built around. I think some of the changes in bats are to try to make the bats more representative of what a wood bat would do, as far as bat speed and the caliber of how you hit a ball. I think it’s a good move. But if they’d go back to wood bats, I’d be happy.