The Erstad approach

The Nebraska baseball team enters the 2014 season with a new attitude and outlook than in previous seasons - they think they can win. With that type of confidence, they could be a dangerous team. Not only for the Big Ten, but nationally.

LINCOLN, Neb. - As temperatures hover around 30 degrees in Lincoln, the Nebraska baseball team will open their regular season with a four-game weekend in Arizona on Friday.

The Huskers will take on Pacific in game one, face nationally ranked Oregon State on Saturday, and finish the weekend with two games against Gonzaga later Saturday evening and Sunday.

After finishing runner-up in last year's Big Ten Conference tournament, the Huskers have been picked to finish No. 2 by the conference coaches earlier this week.

As Nebraska fans anxiously wait for baseball to return to Haymarket Park, the Huskers players enter the year with a different attitude than in previous seasons.

"We think we can win," said returning 2012 All-American senior outfielder Michael Pritchard. "Last year during Big Ten Conference play is when we really started to believe in ourselves and each other.

"They (the coaching staff) tell us we have to go earn it, but we know we can win a baseball game. My freshman year we had Cody Asche. If he didn't hit, we didn't win. Now we have everything we need."

Pritchard is right. The Huskers do have everything the need, including an upgraded roster. But possibly more important is the team's newfound confidence and attitude while playing the game – something implemented by head coach Darin Erstad.

Going back to his introductory press conference, the former Major League All-Star stated three times the coaching staff needed to teach the current players "how to win." In an interview with Big Red Report months after taking the job, he reiterated it being task number one. It's taken two seasons, but Erstad has started to establish a winning culture missing in Lincoln for quite some time.

"When you are a volunteer, you aren't running the show," said Pritchard. "When he was our assistant, he was more laid back. Coach Anderson was running the show and Coach Erstad was just our hitting coach. We knew he was intense, he has always been an intense guy, but you could talk to him and joke around with him.

"You can still joke around with him, but from day one of his practices, the switch was flipped. He was on a mission. I don't know how to describe it, but it was from ‘I'm your boy,' to now he's on a mission."

That mission is plain and simple - to win a National Championship. Just talk to Darin Erstad for five minutes. He will convince you it can be done. And if it is done, it will be accomplished using the same no-nonsense approach Erstad used in 14 seasons in the Majors.

"We use the term relentless. He's relentless," said Pritchard. "When you in the dugout, you don't want to talk to him. He's so focused in the game…the way he prepares is unbelievable.

"We weren't used to practice. We weren't used to winning… We had a lot of talent, a lot of guys that were really good, but they also didn't want to work. They were given everything…Coach Erstad came here (and) you picked – you either want to play or cry about it."

The culture isn't for everybody. Casualties happened along the way. But entering year three of the Erstad era, Pritchard says everyone now on the roster has bought in.

"He got us after a lot our first two years. There are a lot of guys that aren't here anymore," said Pritchard, who entered Nebraska in a class of ten players. "There are only two left. He weeded out the people that didn't want to be here. That's why we are in the situation we are today. We have depth, we have people saying we could be in a regional – we should be.

"Now it's a type of deal where we are all in it together. The coaches really created that. We are in it to win, from top to bottom."

For more of the inside story on Erstad's new culture: CLICK HERE

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