Baseball in Lincoln

“Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd, buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks, I don’t care if I ever get back…” Spring time in Lincoln means baseball. That catchy tune we all sing during the seventh inning stretch is a staple at Lincoln’s Haymarket Park. From Huskers to Saltdogs, fans have a great time enjoying the sport of baseball in Lincoln.

Haymarket Park, home of Hawk’s field, hosts both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Huskers Baseball Team and the Lincoln Saltdogs, past American Association baseball champions. High School State Championships are also played on Hawk’s field. Every year since it has opened, Haymarket Park has been judged “Best Playing Surface” by many professional organizations including the Northern League, the American Association, and the Sports Turf Managers Association. It is well worth a visit just to look at the well groomed field.

Now in his second season, the Huskers head baseball coach Darin Erstad is a fan favorite. He is a former UNL baseball and football player who went on to have an outstanding professional career in the major leagues. During his 14 year career he played for the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, and was a two-time All-Star. Erstad retired in 2009 and returned to Lincoln with his wife, Jessica(also a Nebraska graduate).

They stayed close to the athletic program, donating $1 million in 2004 to help renovate the football stadium where Erstad was a punter for Coach Tom Osborne’s 1994 national title team. Coach Erstad spent the 2011 season as a volunteer coach for the Husker Baseball program, before taking over the program in 2012.

The Huskers compete in the Big Ten Conference, and there is a lot of excitement about their second year in the new conference. Games are a sea of red and white clad dedicated Husker fans. Between innings they participate in trivia contests and catch the occasional t-shirt blasted into the stands.

The Saltdogs are Lincoln’s professional baseball team. They occupy Hawk’s Field from late spring through the end of summer. The Saltdogs belong to the American Association of Professional Baseball, which is an independent minor league not directly affiliated with any major league team.

However, the Saltdogs are often a stepping stone for young talent. Each year fans watch as one or more of their own players get signed to a major league organization.

This past year fans were even able to watch a few home-grown baseball players come back from college and play with their hometown team. Saltdogs games are non-stop fun from cheering on the team to between-inning promotions created by the Saltdogs staff. It’s a fun afternoon or evening for everyone. Weiner Wednesdays is one particular fan favorite—hot dogs are a special price and fans can bring their dogs to the park for between inning races. Of course, Homer, the Saltdogs mascot, is always on hand to entertain.

Fans can also enjoy the Home Run Terrace in right field, with a spectacular view and all-inclusive amenities. This “all you can eat” seating includes your game ticket, and food and soda all in one package. Plus fans have the option of purchasing a drink ticket. This section knows how to enjoy a game. Perched under the scoreboard and video screen, the fans are treated to the kind of service only found at major league ball parks.

The Saltdogs season runs from May through September. You can learn more about them online www.saltdogs.com. Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office at Haymarket Park or by calling 402-474-Ball (2255).

“Put me in Coach” is another favorite song among baseball fans. Well – if you want to play, Lincoln is your kind of town. For adults who want to play ball there are several opportunities. For recreation, the YMCA offers softball leagues. For those interested in a more competitive baseball experience, there is the Lincoln Adult Baseball League where college students and other competitive adults keep their skills sharp.

For children, the YMCA and the Junior SaltdogsLeague offer recreational teams as well as spirit leagues, which provide a little more competition.

In addition, the number of select clubs continues to rise providing young athletes with increased opportunities for competition. There is a game for every participant’s skill level.

High school baseball starts in the spring and morphs into the American Legion baseball program from Memorial Day through July. Legion baseball in Lincoln has a strong tradition, offering both junior and senior leagues. Games can be enjoyed at the newly renovated Sherman field, Den Hartog and Densmore fields.

From youth baseball games to the strong tradition of High School and Legion baseball all the way to Haymarket Park, Lincoln has the opportunity to see it all.

Take in a game or two. Visit Sherman Field for Legion Ball, stop by the local parks like University Place and catch a game with 10-year-olds playing, or shake out a blanket on the berms of Haymarket Park and enjoy the Saltdogs. You just never know who will be the next Lincoln player to hit the majors.

“…Let me root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame. For it is one, two, three strikes you’re out, at the old ball game!”

By Karen Brokaw

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