Baseball: Former Winger named starterRed Wing’s Pat Kelly will be first true freshman to start at shortstop for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln baseball team since 2008.
By: Chris Harrell, The Republican Eagle
Pat Kelly’s first time taking the field as a freshman baseball player for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln didn’t go quite like he’d hoped.
Starting at second base and batting leadoff for the Red Team during the Cornhuskers’ fall scrimmage series, Kelly struck out three times in four at-bats and committed an error in the field. But it was the Red Wing High School graduate’s response in the next two scrimmages that turned heads.
In the second and third scrimmages of the Red/White series, Kelly went 5-for-7 at the plate with two doubles and only one error in the field while playing shortstop.
Nebraska’s first-year head coach Darin Erstad, a 14-year Major League baseball player and World Series champion, said Kelly’s ability to adjust and workmanlike mentality earned him the right to be the starting shortstop for this weekend’s season-opening series against Gonzaga in Peoria, Ariz.
“It’s how you respond to failure,” Erstad said. “First game of the Red/White series he struggled and he came out the next game and had three hits. That’s exactly the type of mentality you need to have in the game of baseball.”
Kelly said he was really nervous for his first game in the fall but the coaches settled him down and told him to focus on playing with the same intensity every day.
“You just have to be consistent in everything you do, on the field and off the field,” Kelly said. “It’s all your state of mind. You’ve got to be confident in your game.”
Kelly, 19, hit .436 with a team-leading five home-runs for the Wingers last season as Red Wing won the Missota Conference and finished with its first winning season since 2007.
Kelly’s time with the Wingers and playing for the Ohio Warhawks, one of the top 18-under programs in the countr, prepared him to be thrown into the fire early, Erstad said. It didn’t take Kelly as long as most freshman to adjust at Nebraska.
“You can tell he’s been well-coached and is prepared for Division I baseball,” Erstad said. “He’s played summer ball against some great competition with a wood bat in his hand. A lot of times freshmen come in and there’s a learning curve to get used to better pitching and the speed of the game. He really picked up on that fast.
“Now, that being said, he’s a freshman. There’s going to be growing pains and it’s a process but he’s earned the right to start.”
Erstad said Kelly has a strong arm from shortstop and good range, but as a young player he still needs time to consistently make every routine play. Kelly will hit lower in the order to focus on defense and break him in slowly without as much pressure to produce, he said.
“We’re not going to throw him out there completely,” Erstad said. “But he’s going to bring a spark, he’s going to bring an energy to our team and that’s what we’re looking for … we project him to be a big part of our team in the future.”
That future starts Friday when Kelly steps onto the field as the first true freshman to start a season-opening game for the Cornhuskers since 2008. His team-first mentality, versatility and work ethic are everything Nebraska looks for in its players, Erstad said.
“He’s our kind of guy; Midwestern, blue-collar mentality kid,” Erstad said. “A kid with that kind of work ethic is not going to be denied … he stands for everything we’re going to build our program around.”