David Eckstein will never forget Omaha.
The 10-year major leaguer, a two-time All-Star, played in two World Series and 44 total postseason games. But he still cherishes the summer of 1996, when he and the Florida Gators made it to the College World Series and finished one game short of playing for a title.
“It truly was one of my greatest moments in my career,” he said.
Eckstein is back in Nebraska this weekend. He spoke at the Husker baseball team banquet Friday. He’ll participate in NU’s baseball clinic Saturday. His brother Rick, who scouts and coaches for the Los Angeles Angels, will be on hand, as well.
David Eckstein took some time out of his schedule to chat with local reporters about several topics Friday, including his former teammate and NU baseball coach Darin Erstad, what he’s up to now and various Omaha memories.
Q: What was it like when you first met Erstad? Did you like him? Was he hard on you?
A: “He loves telling the story. The first time he walked up to me, it was three days into spring training. He hadn’t said a word. You know, he was a little intimidating. And he comes up. He goes, ‘Hey. What’s up, kid?’ I was like, ‘OK.’ The next day, he comes up to me again. I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He goes, ‘Apologizing.’ Because he realized we were the same age. That’s kind of how we got started off. ... He’s very intense. One thing about Darin is his routine. He got to the park, 12, 12:30, and it was on. And that type of mentality, that type of intensity is something that — I kind of was the same way. We fit together. ... And yes. You did not talk to Darin before the games. It was only if he talked to you. But definitely, he showed me the right way to play on the field.”
Q: But was it pretty quick, in terms of, hey, you’re one of the guys now?
A: “The one thing that Darin did — because the way the locker room was set up, there was a couple lockers over here, and it was Darin and Adam Kennedy. And he actually made the clubhouse people move my locker over by him because he made me part of that little group. I guess it was kind of like a badge of honor if you earned his respect. And I guess that’s what I did.”
Q: Was Erstad one of those guys you thought back then would make a good coach?
A: “The funny thing about it was the intensity, in the sense that — would that actually translate over? But definitely, the way Darin knew the game and the way he went about his business, you saw him being a coach. I just was worried about his routines and how he goes about his routine when he’s here now. Because I’ve said this a couple times now: I thought I was crazy with my routine. But after seeing him, I felt very normal.”
Q: There’s a lot of guys with Angels ties who are coaching now. So are you next?
A: I’m learning my craft right now. I’ve been offered jobs. I have said no right now. I go out and help the local high schools and then I help out with USA Baseball and I help out with the Angels a little bit. Right now, I’m dedicated to my wife. We started a company. I’m helping her run that company. But at some point in time, I’ll definitely be back in the game.”
Q: It kind of pulls you back in, doesn’t it?
A: In Florida, I’m at the field every day. My high school team’s playing right now. Baseball’s in my blood. It’s who I am. It’s what makes me tick. ... Even though, right now, I’m helping my wife sell women’s apparel for the sci-fi fan.
Q: That’s the company?
A: It’s called Her Universe, yes. We have the rights to Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who. We go to all the Comic-Cons now.
Q: Well, since you’re in Nebraska today ... you were in Omaha as a college player, right?
A: Yeah. It was one of my greatest moments in my life. The city embraced us. Playing on that stage, at that time. It was probably the last time when baseball was just baseball, to go out and have fun. And there wasn’t really all the other stuff that ties to it, once you sign a professional contract.”
Q: You guys didn’t win. But what do you remember about your games?
A: We had LSU. We lost 2-1.
Q: There couldn’t have been many 2-1 games.
A: But you’ve got to remember, that was when the wind started blowing in. The ball just stopped. One of our guys crushed the ball. It didn’t go out. The umpire called it foul. Replays showed it was fair — but hey, who remembers that stuff, ya know? ... But yeah, there weren’t many of those games during that time. The wind started blowing in after that first weekend. Scores were not as high.