Haymarket Park is one of those places that, even though it wasn't around when I was born, seems like it's been in Lincoln forever. Until last Saturday, it had been seven years since I had been to a Husker game in Lincoln (thanks, Mike Anderson) and three years since I'd been to a Husker baseball game anywhere. As Husker baseball has begun to follow Nebraska basketball's path to resurgence, I figured it was time to head back to the park.
I took the new footbridge to the old stadium (side note: unless you park in the garage right next to Pinnacle Bank Arena, it's not worth it to use the PBA footbridge.) It was the perfect day for baseball, reminiscent of when I went with my parents eight years ago on the day before Easter, 2006. We sat on the hill in the outfield, along with a few thousands who'd come over from the spring game earlier that day. Husker baseball was hot at that time: Nebraska would finish 42-17 that season and the previous Friday evening, Hawks field welcomed its largest crowd ever of 8,757. Finally, this weekend, the crowd came a lot closer to that day's attendance than to typical-college-baseball-fans-sparsed-out over 30% of a ball park.
Nebraskans' love for the Huskers' lesser sports is amazing. Consistent attendance for men's basketball in spite of a decade-plus of mediocrity. Nearly 8,000 for volleyball. Now Husker baseball is back in the top 30 for college baseball attendance, and if attendance patterns continue, Haymarket park could draw more than last weekend's nearly 14,000 fans for next week's home season finale series against Illinois.
17-4. That's the Huskers record the last 21 games. Nebraska was somewhat diminished with the lesser competition in the Big 10, but this team is making the way back to the top. There aren't a lot of stars on the team, just timely hitting and strong pitching. Admittedly, I was a bit cautious when Osborne named Darin Erstad Nebraska's head coach. At the time, it appeared that Osborne was just picking his guy because Erstad was giving him a “alumni” discount. But this current streak is making me believe, especially when 10 of the last 17 wins were by 2 runs or fewer.
But like their counterparts in men's basketball, Nebraska baseball probably won't go very far in the NCAA Tournament when they have to face elite pitching. But the mere fact that they are winning and drawing fans is reason enough to celebrate. Here's to hoping 7,500+ fans come out for one of the games against Illinois
By a strange coincidence, Husker baseball is reviving at the same time Nebraska will essentially host the Big 10 baseball in their in-state rival's stadium. I don't if this team would have a chance to win the tournament in a road environment, but with the advantage of home field, it could be the boost that Nebraska needs to win the Big 10. What an irony though if the Huskers would end up playing Iowa in their first game, and a third of the stadium is Iowa fans. Making the NCAA's would be great, but winning the Big 10 Tournament at home could provide more momentum for the team right now.
While I walked the concourse around Hawks Field, I noticed a two interesting fashion trends. There were a lot of Nebrasketball shirts and there was a lot of gray. The first, merely an expression of pride in a recent boom; what's more interesting is how many basketball shirts will still be around in five years, or at football games this fall.
As far as the gray goes, I wonder if it's time we see a gray-based alternate uniforms, similar to ones Tennessee wore against Georgia last year. (Addidas, who also makes Nebraska's uniforms, supplied Tennessee with their gray jerseys.) Personally, I would be ambivalent about Nebraska going gray, as the chances of a bomb are higher, witness Texas A&M's gray attempt at LSU last year. Still, I'd love to see a gray or white-based design. (I'm guessing anything would be better than a football knockoff of the striped red/faded red, 80's-style uniforms the baseball team wore Saturday. Good uniforms for baseball, but for football, fans would go crazy.)
Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org