Shatel: Meyers says his exit was best for him, Eichorst

Jake Meyers, right, wears No. 4, just like his dad did as an All-America outfielder at Nebraska in 1986. Jake pitches, too; he’ll start on the mound Sunday when the Huskers try to clinch their series with Penn State.

LINCOLN — He’s spent almost a lifetime around Nebraska baseball games. As an All-American, he roamed the outfield. As an assistant coach, he paced the dugout. As a fundraiser, he hunkered down in the skybox above third base at Haymarket Park.

But now, in the role of his life, Paul Meyers is wrapped in real pressure.

His son, Jake, could be stationed in right field, or he could be at the plate for an important at-bat. Sunday, he’ll pitch.

So Paul Meyers does what a lot of sports dads do: He walks. And walks. Round and round, back and forth, lap after lap.

“He walks all the way around,” Jake Meyers says. “I don’t know if it’s because he’s nervous. The guys (teammates) call him, ‘Where’s Paul?’ instead of ‘Where’s Waldo?’”

Where’s Paul Meyers? It’s been a good question for nearly two years, since he left NU on June 4, 2014, with a resignation that was a mutual parting of ways.

He’d spent nearly 30 years at the school since signing on to play baseball out of Omaha Westside. He had built up a career full of goodwill with Nebraskans, as a native son and fundraiser who fit in anywhere Husker fans were, at the ranch or the country club golf outing.

Meyers was influential enough that when he resigned as head of athletic development in 2007, it was one of the red flags in Athletic Director Steve Pederson’s downfall.

Tom Osborne rehired Meyers shortly after replacing Pederson as A.D., and there was a time when Meyers was thought to be on a track to be athletic boss at his alma mater. But that never happened, for various reasons, and then two years ago he was gone.

Why? Meyers had popularity in the state, and he is a straight shooter with a penchant for telling it like he sees it, including to superiors. He also was seen as old guard, in the Osborne camp. And though he was not trained to become athletic director, a number of Husker fans thought he should be there.

Meyers is someone who always put Nebraska first, but even he could understand how his presence would be awkward in the Shawn Eichorst regime.

“The only thing I’ll say is, it was time for both of us,” Meyers says of his departure from NU.

Meyers took a year off to “decompress.” But what’s the line? He tried to leave and they pulled him back in.

The gravitational force came from Jake, now a sophomore and budding star at NU. Paul, with wife Laurie, finds himself at every Nebraska baseball game — home and away — watching Jake follow in an oh-so-familiar path.

“I’m just so proud,” says the father.

But there’s another word for watching your son not only wear the same uniform, but the same No. 4. And being coached by Darin Erstad, whom Meyers coached just more than 20 years ago.

“When Darin offered Jake, he looked over at me and said, ‘This is weird,’ ” Paul says with a laugh.

It’s like a dream, but this was never the dad’s dream. Paul says he never pushed Jake into baseball. That was evident at Jake’s first T-ball game, when he hit the ball and immediately ran to third base.

“I told my wife, ‘You know, we probably should have gone over that,’ ” Paul says.

There would be time for talk. As a chief fundraiser, Meyers was constantly at Husker sporting events. So was Jake.

The best memories? Football.

“He’d take me down on the field, which I thought was the coolest thing ever,” Jake says. “He also took me on bowl trips.

“I wasn’t around baseball much. I came to some games, but I was also playing, too. I went to the last game at Buck Beltzer, when they beat Rice to go to the College World Series (in 2001).

“Well, they told me I was there. I don’t remember much.”

Jake was 4 years old.

There’s a déjà vu aspect to all this for Paul. His father, Carl, played quarterback at Creighton Prep, then played one year for Bob Devaney at Wyoming before coming back to quarterback for Al Caniglia at UNO.

Carl Meyers then joined Caniglia’s staff as offensive coordinator and soon would have his own son, Paul, in tow for games.

“The one memory I have of it,” Paul says, “was one week my dad said, ‘I’m going to have you on the sidelines this week, because I want you to see this running back.’ ”

That was the day in 1973 when Walter Payton helped Jackson State beat the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the rain and mud at Rosenblatt Stadium.

Yes, certain games always stand out. But as Paul is finding out, when it comes to dads and sons, every game shared is a special memory.

Which is exactly why Paul has missed only one game in two years. He can’t make up for all those youth games he missed while doing the fundraising thing. But he can grab some memories.

“I made a commitment that the next job I would have, my family would be first,” says Meyers, who works in development for Lutz, an Omaha-based accounting and business solutions firm. “It was a time in our lives I did not want to miss.”

He’s using this time to make up for lost praise. Meyers admits he was always busier pointing out the things Jake could do better than acknowledging the good plays. That was the coach in him, wanting to make his son better.

He’s much freer with the praise now. It’s a second chance for a father to tell his son he’s proud.

“Growing up, he was pretty hard on me,” Jake says. “I’d get maybe one hit, but the first thing he’d talk about were the other at-bats.

“Now, I do that to myself. I expect a lot out of myself, so I thank him for that.”

Jake plays the game with the same passion, with that clutch gene, as the old man walking around the concourse. Or so he’s learned.

“He’s not too big on telling me about himself, so I’ve done a lot of research on him,” Jake says. “It’s pretty amazing. He was on the USA team. He’s sixth here all-time in hits. He’d never, ever tell me that stuff.

“Some of the (Huskers) have told me that stuff. And some of them know him as the assistant athletic director.”

That life is over now. It’s been two years, and both NU and Paul Meyers have moved on from what might have been. Paul says he misses his friends, the donors, the fans.

But if there’s bitterness, it doesn’t show. The thing is, NU never groomed Meyers for the big chair. And Meyers never openly pursued it, never left to gain experience elsewhere.

Did he want to be A.D.?

“It’s an interesting question,” he says. “I certainly had other opportunities to move up, at other schools.

“But I was really at the place I wanted to be. For me, it wasn’t about title. If Nebraska needed me to do it, that’s what I would do. I didn’t need to be athletic director to enjoy myself.”

As for not getting an interview when Osborne retired: “It doesn’t bother me. I didn’t deserve anything. If I was going to be interviewed, it’s because they thought I was right for the job. They’ve got to do what’s right for the university.”

It’s OK. Meyers has found his calling, walking round and round Haymarket Park.

Proud dad.

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