LINCOLN — With a light rain spitting like sunflower seeds, Nebraska players and coaches stepped onto the Haymarket Park diamond eager for a new beginning.
Eleven true freshmen warmed up with the team down the left-field line. The bullpen filled with pitchers, none of whom were part of last year’s weekend rotation. Sophomore Colby Gomes debuted a tattoo on his left inside forearm — “Count your blessings,” written in Portuguese.
After months of moving and logistical gymnastics, first-year coach Will Bolt and his staff were ready for baseball, too. In addition to his two full-time assistants, new volunteer coach Danny Marcuzzo and Tanner Lubach, who took the director of player personnel position created for him, were part of an overhauled support system.
Coaches and players have become somewhat acquainted since Bolt was hired in June to replace eight-year skipper Darin Erstad. But that process speeds up until the Red-White series on a to-be-announced date next month.
“I think we all know this fall is just going to be a complete interview, in a sense,” senior outfielder Joe Acker said. “Because for them, they’re seeing a lot of us for the first time in person. We know it’s going to be super competitive for all nine positions.”
The team will scrimmage more than usual with the staff in evaluation mode, Bolt said. His practices will be short, but crisp. Off the field, he’s establishing accountability in the small things — mandatory breakfast attendance, for example — so the big stuff isn’t such a leap.
And if players don’t follow through?
“There’s nothing set in stone,” Bolt said. “We like to keep them guessing.”
Other notes and observations from Nebraska’s first fall workout:
- Offensively, the Huskers must replace what amounts to three infield spots. Bolt indicated that utilityman Jaxon Hallmark will likely settle in at second base. Gomes, who served as first baseman and closer last year, will solely focus on pitching. That leaves an open job, with heralded freshman Luke Boynton a likely contender at first baseman. Shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach will be limited with throwing this fall.
- Texas A&M transfer and Lincoln Southwest grad Logan Foster won’t pursue an eligibility waiver and plans to sit out next season, Bolt said.
- Gomes will work toward a starting job, mixing three or four pitches instead of throwing as hard as possible like last season. Others looking to make a move this fall to starter include sophomore lefty Kyle Perry, senior right-hander Gareth Stroh, sophomore righty Shay Schanaman and junior right-hander Trey Kissack. Stroh, a Gibbon grad, sat out last year after transferring from Purdue while Kissack, a Grand Island product, did the same after a season at UNC Greensboro.
- Among players not on the roster who could have returned this year are reliever Robbie Palkert, catcher/outfielder Kennet Sorenson and outfielder Nolan Hakel. Palkert, who became NU’s most high-leverage bullpen arm last season with a 3.19 ERA in 36 ⅔ innings, decided to move on with his post-baseball career after four years.
- Left-hander Connor Curry won’t pitch this fall, Bolt said. The junior from Lincoln Southeast reinjured his surgically repaired elbow last March but had completed his rehab throwing program by late May.
- Former Husker Curtis Ledbetter is back as director of operations. He filled the role for 10 years before shifting to volunteer assistant last year. Marcuzzo, the new volunteer coach and a Millard West graduate, came highly recommended to Bolt from people within the industry. He has experience as a player and coach at the junior college level and was the sports information director for a time at Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College.
“He covered 18 sports, and that was part of his job,” Bolt said. “That tells me that guy wants to be a professional coach. He’s doing a lot of extra stuff to make it work, so we’re excited about him.”
Lubach, who served as director of operations last year, will focus on player development, Bolt said. The former NU catcher will serve as the liaison between the team and various support systems including strength and conditioning, nutrition and sports psychology.