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Big Ten Baseball Tournament: Musings From a Baseball Lifer

Yes, those were yellow shoes!

Baseball and softball are big parts of my family’s life. I don’t mean my immediate family as in me playing, coaching, and following my kids as they played. It is much, much bigger than that. Generational. It started long before I was around and there are multiple chapters about the impact this game has had since I first tossed a ball to my dad and learned so much about the game from an incredible array of significant people in my life. That’s not what this is about. This is about one small aspect of it that is right in front of all of us this week in Omaha, Nebraska and the fact that my biggest baseball buddy is unable to make it the The Chuck to watch his team play.

Dad is 83-years old and ten days ago he lifted a mower deck himself when he should have asked for help. He paid for that in a big way with back pain like he has never experienced in his life. So, he’s sitting this one out at home taking pain meds and rotating a heating pad and ice, as well as trying to get that stiff old body to do some intermittent stretches.

Boy he was looking forward to spending this week in Omaha at the ballpark cheering on the Cornhuskers and watching the game he loves, and I miss having him here as well.

Jon and Doyle Wolverton at Penn State game.

Shay Schanaman raised my blood pressure a number of times this season because of his lack of consistency. You could pretty much count on him to hit a batter and if he didn’t have his slider it was not pretty. There were times he was outstanding and you just kind of hoped that that Shay was the one on the mound every time he toed the rubber. We saw both Shays in Omaha. Against Rutgers in the first round he imploded. It was a bad performance and it certainly could have cost the Cornhuskers the game.

Well they did win and I truly hoped that Shay would get a shot at redemption, which he did against Maryland. He came in late in the game and was remarkable. Maryland Head Coach Rob Vaughn remarked afterwards that he had hoped Schanaman had graduated! However, he will most definitely and unfortunately be remembered for the last pitch he threw to Nick Lorusso that ended up over the left field wall resulting in a walk-off home run for the Terrapins. Crushing.

Shay got one more chance to wear the scarlet and cream, again against Maryland. He shut down the vaunted Terrapin offense the final four innings and did not give up a hit or a run. Despite the loss and end to the season I was very happy for him, and not that it matters, very proud of him. In my mind he represents all that is good about Nebraska baseball. He was a kid from Grand Island that dreamed of playing for the Cornhuskers. He came back for one more year and as he said in the final press conference, he would not have traded that experience for anything.

He’s a great role model and inspiration for other young Nebraska boys with that dream. And come on, wasn’t it great during that mound repair delay that we got to hear the entire version of his walk-up song Fat Bottom Girls!

Dylan Carey is an amazing defensive infielder. Playing the hot corner, this freshman from Colorado has played the position very well all season, but in the four games in Omaha he made three of the most incredible plays I have ever seen a third baseman make. The first came in a key moment of the Rutgers game with two runners on and one out. Carey charged a weak grounder and with his momentum going forward he somehow twisted his body and put enough mustard on his throw to second to start a double play to get Nebraska out of the inning.

The is no way that happened! Then later in the game, he leapt high in the air to snatch a high hopper and fired a laser to once again start a DP. My jaw was on my chest. I have an affinity for third base play and I’ve not seen that kind of play more than a time or two in my life, and that was by guys in The Show.

Against Michigan State, a bullet came off the bat of a Sparty hitter that took a bad hop right in front of him. Somehow he got his glove on the ball right in front of his face, knocking it down and then again, using that canon in his right arm to nail the runner at first. Yeah, he made a mental error on bunt coverage in the second inning of the Saturday game vs. Maryland, but the amazing outweighs the bad 99 to 1. There’s a lot of talk of him moving over to shortstop once Brice Matthews moves on, but for my money, leave the kid at third base. He is amazing!

Over the years I’ve made no secret about my disdain for teams that wear uniforms in anything other than their school colors. Trim is one thing, but when the bulk of a uniform is something other than their official colors or the traditional neutrals, I don’t like it.

Yes, there are special occasions like St. Patricks Day where if a team pulls on some green, I’m okay with that. But when these kind of uniforms are in their regular rotation, that’s wrong. Michigan State is green and white, and Illinois is navy and orange. Both of them have a beautiful mix of uniforms in those colors. In fact, those whites that the Spartans wore against Nebraska on Friday were as sharp as they come.

However, both of them wore nasty looking anthracite uniforms that did not represent their universities at all. I’ve accepted the invasion of the softball look into baseball, like the head-to-toe color rush red uniforms Indiana wore and the black ones Rutgers has sported over the past few years, but those are in their school colors. I’ve made my feeling known about Nebraska wearing black, so now you understand my dislike is universal.

I think I was the only one that recognized a certain Iowa Hawkeye fan on Tuesday when he was flashed on the video board in right field between innings. Like so many venues cameras scan crowd during down time in the game and put their pictures up on the video board. Midway through Iowa’s game against Michigan, Dan Gable appeared on the video board wearing a black Iowa baseball cap and t-shirt. Dan Gable. Thee Dan Gable. The man some still consider the GOAT in the sport of wrestling, both as a competitor and coach. Dan Gable at a baseball game in Omaha. Well, he wasn’t there as a representative of the university or athletic department. Nope, he was there to watch his grandson play for the Hawkeyes.

Gable Mitchell is reserve second baseman and the son of one of Dan’s daughters, who happened to marry a former Iowa baseball player. When I was coaching wrestling there was a common phrase that you heard off and on about Coach Gable: “It’s a good thing he had daughters. Can you imagine how tough it would be for a son to follow his legacy!” Well, I have to believe that his grandson has a cool sense of pride that he’s there in the ballpark to watch his team play.

Some people find them boring, but I love a good pitcher’s battle. And I love watching great individual pitching performances. We got to see Nebraska involved in both. Who would have thought that after Nebraska and Maryland put up football type scores in three games played in the regular season that pitchers would dominate in two games the past few days. Back in March, the two teams put up 59 runs over three games. In the two they played in Omaha, the total was nine.

Yes, Charles Schwab Field is a big ballpark, and Turtle Field in College Park is at most a high school field. However, the pitchers had their day. That also happened when Maryland faced Iowa in the championship game. The old adage is that good pitching beats good hitting. That was the case in this tournament.

Along this line, Will Walsh made the All-Tournament team for his performance against Michigan State, a complete game shutout. Dominance. We saw what he could do about a month into the season when he ate up innings against Northern Colorado and Creighton in relief. He showed the coaches what he could do and he eventually became the Sunday starter. This is a guy that started the season platooning at first base, and we were told that he would probably pitch a few innings as a middle reliever.

Who saw this coming?

He was never really in trouble against the Spartans and I got goose bumps in the press box as he recorded those three strikeouts in the ninth inning. Those were the same goose bumps I had in Arlington, Texas a year ago in March when Shay Schanaman tossed a complete game shutout against Northwestern State. We don’t see many complete games anymore at any level of the game so for me this was about as special as it gets.

What is it with naming the Old Trapper Play of the Game before the end of the game? I get the whole marketing angle and all, and I’ve noticed the same being done at other events. They want buts in the seats looking at the video board, not people leaving the stadium. However, in Nebraska’s first game against Maryland, the indisputable play of the game was the last one, Nick Larusso’s two-strike walk-off homer off Shay Schanaman. That was it! But, nooooooo. They already named the play of the game back in the 8th inning, whatever it was. Hold your jerky Old Trapper!

Friday morning after Nebraska’s loss the night before to Maryland, I was listening to 1620 and caught some guy named Josh who announced that he was cashing it in on this year’s Nebraska baseball team. I normally listen to Nick Handley and Gary Sharp early in the morning, and on occasion catch a bit of the mid-morning Crossover show, so I am only vaguely familiar with this Josh guy. Needless to say I thought that was one of the most stupid comments I’ve heard. Thats quite the stand to jump off the fan-train when there is possibly one game left in the season.


There is no doubt that this team has been a very frustrating one to support this season, but what kind of a statement is it to announce you’re done with them at the end of the season? I’ve questioned the Nebraska football fan base a lot over the years for jumping off ship as I don’t believe real fans do that. IReal fans are all in. You don’t walk away when your team suffers a devastating loss having left it all out there on the field like Coach Bolt’s boys did Thursday night.

When it comes to closers, David Falco, Jr. fits the stereotype of the intimidator. He’s got the look with the long hair and beard, as well as the size. He’s got that nasty slider. Most important, he seems to relish that persona of the villain. I was unable to hear his walkup song, but Hell’s Bells or Enter Sandman would be a perfect fit for this guy. Over the years there have been those guys like Goose Gossage, Lee Smith, Rod “Shooter” Beck, Tom “The Terminator” Henke, and Rob “Nasty Boy” Dibble, who were big, tall men that often glared down from the mound, threw smoke, and weren’t afraid to buzz the tower.

Falco has that attitude and he was on his game in this tournament. I could not get over the contrast with Nebraska’s closer, the boyish-looking Schanaman. Shay looks like he’s fourteen! I don’t ever remember Nebraska having that big, nasty guy that they would trot out of the bullpen late in the game to mow them down.

Maryland proved me wrong in the final game by beating Iowa, and doing so convincingly. I had said that Iowa was the best team, and I am going to stand by that but qualifying it by adding “up to the championship game.” However, Maryland was up to the task and generated offense against what had been sterling Hawkeye pitching, and at the same time shut down the opportunistic Hawkeye hitters. The two best coached teams made it to the final game, and I won’t apologize for my contention that Rick Heller is the best of all head coaches in the B1G.

Heck, Rob Vaughn acknowledges that himself, sharing about how every coach in the conference steals ideas, strategies, and tactics from Heller. I’m old enough to remember when he brought UNI to Nebraska for a regional before their administration cut the program for budgetary reasons. All Rick Heller has done at every place he’s been has been to win a lot of baseball games. He has deflected offers from big-time programs and better baseball conferences to stay at Iowa. I dislike the Iowa Hawkeyes with a passion, but I have tremendous respect for Coach Heller.

One more and I am out of here. This Nebraska team finished the season with a 33-23-1 record, a significant improvement over last year’s 23-30. Coach Bolt made a remark in his press conference Saturday about the difference in the season was five games, which he said last year as well. Five more wins puts this team at 38-18-1, which looks better but would it have gotten them into a regional? Regardless, what was so frustrating with the 2023 team were those midweek losses to Omaha, SDSU, NDSU, and Creighton. Those games matter and at times it did not appear that the team played with the same sense of purpose as they did on the weekends in the Big Ten. That has to improve.

With the sun setting on this season, I am thankful for the opportunity to watch two of the better players to wear the Cornhusker uniform in the last twenty years. Max Anderson and Brice Matthews are both going to get drafted in next month’s MLB draft. Anderson came in with a lot of hype being from up the road at Millard. Matthews was from Texas and all we really knew about him is that Bolt had been recruiting him for years. At the plate this season, they were both electric, and for a good chunk of it, both hitting over .400. I do believe we’ve seen the last of them in the scarlet and cream.

Shay Schanaman and Kyle Perry came back for one more run. They both dreamed of playing for their home state team and you could feel their passion. And I’m going to miss Efry. He will look back and realize he got a hit in his last at-bat and was probably playing the best of his career before he hurt that hamstring rounding first base, but I’m sad that he didn’t get to finish his career on the field.

Thanks for following our coverage of the Big Ten Tournament. We’ll be wrapping up the Nebraska season in the near future, as well as providing information looking ahead at next year.