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By Randy York
This could be a make-or-break weekend for Nebraska baseball and do the Huskers ever need you now. Listen to Husker Sports Nightly, and you’ll hear repeated messages urging fans to buy their tickets early and show support for a team trying to qualify for its first conference postseason baseball tournament in four years. That’s a critical goal for a program needing traction so it can turn the corner, and that’s why this weekend is catered to a loyal fan base that’s responded well to Darin Erstad’s first year as head coach. “We’re doing everything we can to draw Husker fans to Hawks Field and Haymarket Park this weekend,” said Lonna Kliment, Nebraska’s new director of Ticket Marketing. “If the weather cooperates, we should hit the 100,000 attendance milestone Saturday or Sunday.”
To appreciate the significance of that, check last year’s attendance figures when Nebraska averaged 2,366 fans per game. This year, through 27 home dates, the average is 3,338 fans per game, a full 33 percent increase. “We drew 70,980 for last year’s 30 home games, and we’ve drawn 90,134 fans through our first 27 home games this year,” Kliment pointed out. “We’re really pleased with that dramatic improvement, and that’s why we’re promoting this weekend’s last three home games of the season so heavily.”
Friday is Fan Appreciation Night and will feature a postgame fireworks show. Saturday afternoon is Parents Day, giving Nebraska the opportunity to honor the families of every player on the 32-man varsity roster. Sunday afternoon’s home series finale will be Senior Day for four Huskers – Cory Burleson, Kale Kiser, Dexter Spitsnogle and Sam Stucky, all of whom will receive watches in a pregame ceremony that will include Erstad, his coaching staff, Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, plus Gene Eubanks (chairman of the Home Run Club Advisory Committee) and Gene Stohs, a 1972 first-team Husker All-America outfielder. Stohs was also Nebraska’s first two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American. In addition, following Sunday’s home game, kids will be allowed to run the bases.
Burlson, a catcher, and Kiser, Nebraska’s left fielder and lead-off hitter, are Texas natives and veteran starters. Kiser will be looking to capture the same magic he produced two weekends ago when his second walk-off hit of the season in the bottom of the 11th inning gave Nebraska a 3-2 win over Cal State-Bakersfield. He’s been hit by 45 pitches in his Husker career, proving how gritty he can be. Burleson has thrown out 18 of 32 base-runners trying to steal this season, but the only thing that matters to either senior starter is finding a way to qualify for the Big Ten Postseason Tournament May 23-27 in Columbus, Ohio. The Huskers are 9-9 and tied for seventh with Illinois in the league standings. Since only six teams qualify for the conference tournament, that’s bad news. The good news is Nebraska is only one win behind three 10-8 teams tied for third place – Michigan State, Penn State and weekend roadblock Minnesota. “We’ve put ourselves in the situation where we have to win our last two series,” Erstad said, referring also to three games next Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 11th-place Michigan.
“We’re really encouraging our fans to come to the ball park for this important series,” said Kliment, who worked for the Lincoln Stars hockey team and the Arizona Cardinals football team before joining NU’s athletic department. “Our sponsors (Ameritas, Pepsi, Valentino’s, Runza, Verizon and Wimmer’s) are going all out for our fans, especially Friday night when we have all kinds of giveaways – gift cards, cell phones, T-shirts, signed posters, signed baseballs and, of course, the fireworks show.” Fans attending Fan Appreciation Night also will have the opportunity to select season tickets for NU men’s and women’s basketball at the Devaney Center for a $25 per-seat deposit. That decision, in turn, will influence priority seating for fans wanting season tickets in the Pinnacle Bank Arena in the West Haymarket Area in 2013.
Holly Adam, assistant athletic director for NU’s Athletic Ticketing, said 4,100 tickets have been sold for Friday night’s Nebraska-Minnesota game and pregame sales are just short of that for the other two games. Fans can use the links above to purchase single-game tickets. They also can call 1-800-8BIGRED or visit the Athletic Ticket Office across the street from the west side of Memorial Stadium. On game day, tickets can be purchased at the Hawks Field box office, located on the third-base side of Haymarket Park. “There are great seats available this weekend, and we’re eager to hit the 100,000 single-season milestone,” Adam said.
Nebraska ranks No. 12 nationally in 2012 Division I Baseball Attendance. Interestingly the 11 baseball programs which rank ahead of the Huskers are all considered warm-weather schools. They are, in order, LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas, Mississippi State, Florida State, Clemson, Texas A&M, TCU and Florida. Equally interesting is the presence of only three other non-warm weather schools ranked among the top 30 in attendance – No. 17 Virginia, No. 18 Creighton and No. 20 Wichita State. Last night, Nebraska and Creighton played in front of 12,184 fans in Omaha – the second largest single-game crowd in college baseball this season. Nebraska has a legitimate chance to make a name for itself in college baseball again, and Big Red fans undoubtedly will be a big factor in that transformation.
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