LJS: Huskers, college teams adjust to new baseballs
The difference is only one-sixteenth of an inch, but the flatter-seamed baseball could change the game, said Nebraska coach Darin Erstad.
"The ball feels smaller in your hand, with the smaller seams, and we'll see if what they say that the ball will fly 50 feet farther will make a difference," he said.
Erstad said NCAA changed the ball when schools complained there wasn't enough offense. Only three home runs were hit in the College World Series last June.
"We just got them and we'll learn about them from the pitcher's standpoint," Erstad said. "We'll see if a hard-hit chopper doesn't grab the ground as well and see how much farther you can hit it."
Erstad said the old balls will still be used for batting practice and "in the cage." The ball is still not the same as the completely flat and livelier-core ball used in the major leagues. Pitchers may find their fastball moves more but curves don't bite as much, Erstad added.
LJS: Husker baseball team enters fall with blend of experience, youth
Nebraska baseball was not for the faint-hearted last spring.
The Huskers won five games on walk-off hits, came from behind in the seventh inning to win 12 more - all after not completing that task even once the previous season.
"We're excited and we have the motivation of knowing what it takes to get to the postseason," said NU senior third baseman Blake Headley. "It's not going to be easier, but we know what it takes to get there."
Nebraska got a quick run through the college baseball buffet line last spring, playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
"We gave fans a lot of heart attacks last year and we learned to finish games," said Headley, who led NU in hitting with a .323 average last season. "I just want to see Nebraska get back to the feel of work and tradition of the Erstad era and the College World Series teams (2001, 2002)."
Husker coach Darin Erstad is starting his fourth season with the Huskers. He greeted 40 players to the first official practice Tuesday at Haymarket Park.
Headley leads a group of returning starters that includes outfielders Ryan Boldt, Austin Darby and Christian Cox, infielders Austin Christensen, Jake Placzek and Steven Reveles, and catcher Tanner Lubach. Kyle Kubat, Chance Sinclair, Jake Hohensee and Josh Roeder return to bolster the pitching staff.
Newcomers include outfielders Luis Alvarado and Elijah Dilday, pitcher Byron Hood of Norris and infielder Jake Schleppenbach from Lincoln Pius X by way of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
"We'll see what we've got," Erstad said. "This is a chance to evaluate and see them compete. We've got quite a lot of new faces. I feel our older guys feel what is expected of them. They have taken the team that is theirs and shown our guys what college ball is all about - basic techniques, classes, lifting, running, all that. Understanding how important it is to take care of the baseball.
"It's part of the game. You hope the older guys have taught the younger guys how to do it. They'll tell us if anything is off."
He said the fact the Huskers got a taste of postseason play only served to motivate his team.
"They were genuinely upset, mad they didn't go farther," Erstad said. "I've seen that look in their eyes when they got here this fall. It's exciting.
"From a motivational standpoint, I don't think I need to do much. It's a matter of how big the little details can be."
* As for immediate challenges, Erstad will not allow pitchers to throw breaking balls during the fall. "Just fastballs and change-ups," he said. "Pitch to contact and throw strikes. You need to pitch in the zone competitively."
* Erstad will use special setups, too, "Like bases loaded and no outs, how do we handle that. Bunt situations. Little situations where we see how they handle it."
* The Huskers will have plenty of competition for starting spots at shortstop and second and third bases. Wes Edrington, who was NU's starting shortstop in 2012, returns from injury. Reveles and Placzek are back, too. Schleppenbach also can play at short, second or third, Erstad said. "They can all play there, that's what fall ball is about," he said.
* Fall practices will conclude with the Red-White intersquad series. Dates have not been set yet.