MINNEAPOLIS — Nebraska’s Pat Kelly smiled at a question he’s heard over and over, not willing to acknowledge that he’s ever felt slighted because his home-state school didn’t recruit him.
Any satisfaction beating Minnesota? “No,” Kelly said Friday.
But he couldn’t hold back that smile and a slight chuckle — because the sophomore second baseman from Red Wing, Minn., knows exactly how much success he’s had against the Gophers in two years.
Nebraska’s won seven of its eight games against Minnesota with Kelly on the roster. And he’s been a big reason.
Kelly has 14 hits in 36 at-bats (.389), recording three doubles and three home runs. He’s scored nine times and has driven in seven runs.
During the Huskers’ 7-4 win at the Big Ten tournament Friday, Kelly put NU up 6-0 with a three-run home run in the fourth. He scored an insurance run in the seventh after opening the inning with a double.
“It’s a lot of fun, doing what you can to help the team win games,” Kelly said. “The main thing is, right now, we’re still playing baseball.”
Long day for bullpens
Nebraska’s relievers usually don’t spend a full game in the bullpen, but the way Target Field’s set up sort of forces them to stay there from the start.
Both bullpens are stacked in center field, just on the left-field side of the batter’s eye. The gate to enter is right at the 411-foot mark on the outfield wall.
The ’pens each run parallel to the warning track, with the one in back elevated slightly above the other. But they’re so close that NU junior Luke Bublitz said it takes a few moments to realize which team’s phone is ringing.
“We had the other team’s bullpen right in front of us,” he said. “That was pretty weird.”
Not much trash-talking, though. Bublitz said the NU relievers were simply trying to stay engaged beyond the outfield wall.
“It’s fun,” he said. “We’re locked in definitely, but it’s pretty loose, pretty relaxed out there.”
Minnesota coach John Anderson had just watched his team get eliminated, but he wanted to make sure that during his postgame press conference he complimented the Minnesota Twins for their hospitality.
“They made us feel like big-leaguers,” he said.
The players have had full use of batting cages before games, they’ve been given rooms to hang out in between games, they toured the MLB clubhouse, the Twins staffers have been doing everyone’s laundry and the stadium’s full grounds crew has been on hand for every contest.
Anderson said he heard similar praise from other players and coaches at the tournament. So he wanted to thank the Twins.
“They put their best foot forward in every part of this tournament,” Anderson said. “It’s not always the case when you go into somebody else’s home. They let you in, but they don’t let you use the best china for dinner. They opened their doors and did it right.”
— Jon Nyatawa