Had California coach David Esquer heard about the Nebraska-UCLA series on a chilly Lincoln weekend last March before agreeing to play the Huskers, maybe the Bears wouldn’t be here at Haymarket Park.
It was the first week of March last season when temperatures hovered around 40 degrees (the wind made it feel much colder) and NU took two of three from the Bruins, ranked as high as No. 5 at the time.
“I told people we were going to Nebraska and they told me about that,” Esquer said. “They were like, ‘You’re kidding?’ I probably was a little bit naive.”
He didn’t have much of a choice, though.
California, of course, was the team whose program had been left for extinction at the start of last season. But alumni and boosters raised $10 million in donations to save it. Then the Bears made that remarkable run to the College World Series.
But as a result of the uncertainty, Cal’s 2012 schedule was blank through April. Nebraska had an opponent back out of a contract in the summer.
“It just kind of worked out that we had an open weekend,” NU’s Darin Erstad said. “They wanted to play four. We were all for it.”
The first game is set to begin at 1:35 p.m. Friday. Conditions are supposed to be a little bit more pleasant at Haymarket than at this time last weekend. Weather forecasts have temperatures in the mid-50s to mid-60s all weekend long. It might even break 70 on Monday. (It’s supposed to be in the 50s and 60s over the next five days in Berkeley, Calif.)
A few pre-series notes are below…
>> Check out my story on Richard Stock, the junior college utility guy who’s made a significant early impact in the middle of Nebraska’s lineup. The dude had a wild first month at NU (arrived in Lincoln with two bags after a bus ride from Wichita; needed to borrow money to eat; slept on a couch for a month).
>> Forgot to mention this earlier in the week: Junior Bryan Peters got hit by a pitch in the third inning Tuesday, the 38th time he’s reached after getting plunked. He moved into third on Nebraska’s all-time list.
>> Here are reliever Dylan Vogt’s numbers since surrendering three runs (one earned) in the eighth inning of Nebraska’s season-opening loss to Gonzaga: In four appearances, the junior right-hander out of Millard South has allowed no runs, giving up just two hits and striking out eight over seven innings of work.
>> Junior Tyler Niederklein, who began the year as the team’s closer, is scheduled to start Monday’s series finale. Said pitching coach Ted Silva: “He’s only going to be stretched out if he gets outs. It’s up to him, more than anything. He’s good enough to get 50-60 (pitches), and if he’s cruising, he’s going to keep going. He’s strong enough. He’s thrown enough. It just depends on him getting outs.”
>> Cal, selected to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason coaches’ poll, returns seven position players from last year’s CWS team. The Bears (9-2) are ranked in three of the four major top 25 polls, slotted as high as No. 21 (coaches’ poll).
>> Players to watch: Junior second baseman Tony Renda, an All-America candidate, is batting .422 (16 of his 19 hits are singles). Sophomore catcher Andrew Knapp (a .360 hitter w/ runners in scoring position as a freshman) leads the team with 13 RBI.
>> As a staff, Cal’s pitchers have recorded a 2.39 ERA. They’ve held opposing batters to a .211 average. … Last year’s closer, senior Matt Flemer, has a 1.23 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched as the Bears’ new Saturday starter. Esquer said sophomore lefty Kyle Porter, a freshman All-American, may be limited in his start Sunday.