The sun’s out. Let’s play seven.
It looks like spring has finally arrived for a long homestand. Man, where you been? You’re just in time for the TD Ameritrade Classic, and what looks and feels like the beginning of baseball season. The last weekend in April. Only in Omaha.
Grab your glove. We’ve got four teams, seven games, in downtown Omaha starting Friday. When Nebraska and Creighton play Friday night — for the first time in this long, cold season — the forecast calls for mid-60s, a big crowd and a 70 percent chance for cargo shorts.
And look what the sunshine has brought.
There’s a baseball season going on at Nebraska. The Huskers have emerged through the snow, rain and wind with a 19-20 record. Not overwhelming. But look at that RPI: 35.
The Huskers enter the last weekend in April in reasonably good shape to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
Darin Erstad’s plan looks brilliant. So far.
The Husker coach over-scheduled in February and March, but he did so with a dual purpose: toughen up the team and the RPI, in case NU found itself in position to take advantage in May.
It seemed to pay off last week, when NU swept a chilly doubleheader against Arkansas. Now at 3-9 against top 25 teams, and 11-4 in the sixth-rated league, NU’s season has emerged from the clouds and looks bright. Or brighter.
“To get my team in a position to get an at-large bid, that’s what we need to do,” Erstad said. “For this particular year, we had a veteran group of guys. That’s how I wanted to do it. You’ll see next year, we won’t be as aggressive.
“At the end of the day, kids who play at Nebraska are going to be exposed to all parts of the country, all different types of baseball.”
Still, at 19-20, the Huskers’ margin for error is thin. Could NU be in better position with four or more wins had Erstad not laid the schedule on so thick?
“We had a lead against Fullerton in the seventh, had a lead at USC, had a lead at Texas and didn’t get it done,” Erstad said. “I’m not putting the blame on anybody. But you want a couple more wins, there you are.”
Erstad said it will be interesting to see how the NCAA selection committee deals with at-large candidates in the north, where the weather has taken its toll this “spring.” NU has played 39 games with 14 left, so it won’t complete a 56-game regular season.
At least one baseball guy admires what the Husker coach did.
“I give him a lot of credit for what he did,” Creighton coach Ed Servais said. “I can’t imagine anyone else in the country who would put their team through that. We think we play a good schedule. We’re not going to that extreme.”
The Jays (22-9) own a sweep over Dallas Baptist. But CU’s RPI is 73, at least 30 spots away from at-large consideration. And the Jays haven’t started the heavy lifting portion of the Valley schedule yet.
But that’s the good news for Servais and friends. There are 15 games left, including Wichita State, Missouri State, Illinois State, Oklahoma State and No. 35 RPI Nebraska.
That’s the best part about this weekend. CU needs it. NU still needs wins. Throw in Oklahoma State and Rutgers and it’s a quality nonconference opportunity in late April.
Credit Nebraska. Erstad said Butch Hug, associate A.D. for facilities and events, was NU’s point person in orchestrating the tourney. It’s a bit of a magic trick, finding four schools from four different leagues that all have the same bye weekend during conference play.
This one’s rare, and that’s why you should enjoy it. It’s easy to say NU and CU could do this every year, and they would. But lining up bye weekends from different leagues is like finding a lunar eclipse.
Maybe they could pull off a nonconference doubleheader event during the week, but that would take more than magic. That would take money, probably big money, to entice an LSU or Rice or whomever to come to Omaha for one day in the middle of the week.
Better to drink in what we have here. Sunshine. A perfect field. Big stadium. Gloves. Bats. Ball.
“There’s been a little less buzz about college baseball this year because of the weather,” Servais said. “It really hasn’t felt like baseball season. It seems like we started the season three or four times this year.”
One more time. Spring. Better late than never. Right on time.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH