LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Since he arrived at Nebraska three years ago, Ryan Boldt's game has drawn comparisons to that of former major leaguer Darin Erstad.
Erstad played at Nebraska, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft and spent 14 years in the big leagues. He also happens to be the Cornhuskers' fifth-year coach and the guy who recruited Boldt out of Red Wing, Minnesota.
So, Coach, is Boldt another Erstad?
"Other than he's faster than I am and stronger than I am, sure," a smiling Erstad said Thursday.
Boldt's bat has helped the Huskers (17-7) win eight straight games, the second-longest streak in the country behind Southeastern Louisiana's 14 in a row. He has had three hits in each of the last four games and two or more hits in all but five games this season.
Erstad, the only player to win Gold Gloves at three different positions, said he's most impressed with Boldt's work in center field.
"I've said all along he could play in the big leagues today, right now, defensively," Erstad said. "No doubt in my mind. I believe he's that good. At the plate, he's still coming. His approach is way better than mine ever was (in college)."
Boldt missed his senior season in high school in 2013 because of a partially torn meniscus in his right knee, but the Boston Red Sox still drafted him in the 22nd round. He said he chose to go to college for the opportunity to learn under Erstad.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Boldt's numbers have gotten better each year. He hit .311 as a sophomore, .344 as a sophomore and now is at .358. After hitting three homers in his first 119 games at Nebraska, he has hit four in his last 21 games.
"We're winning a lot of games, and I've been fortunate enough to have a lot of balls fall for hits," Boldt said. "Hitting, you never know what you're going to get. You can square it up and they can catch it, or you can get jammed and it can fall. It's nice they're falling right now."
Erstad has taken a more active role with the offense this season and has emphasized being more aggressive in favorable counts for the hitter.
"That's where our mindset has changed from the past as far as getting your swing off and trying to drive a baseball," Boldt said.
Boldt, who has mostly batted leadoff the last two seasons, also has a career-high 13 steals.
"We're getting more freedom on the bases," Boldt said. "That's been a big step for us, to take another bag, get guys in scoring position. College baseball, an extra 90 feet is huge. To be able to free up and do that is a big key for us scoring more runs."
Boldt said he grew up a Minnesota Twins fan and didn't follow Erstad's career with the Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros. Erstad, who retired after the 2009 season, was a hard-nosed player who hit .282 for his career, could steal a base and had some pop in his bat.
Boldt heard the comparison to Erstad long ago and calls it "cool."
"He respects the game so much and he knows the ins and outs," Boldt said. "Just knowing the game of baseball and how it should be played is the biggest thing. I've always had that a little bit. To have a deeper insight into that is a special thing because you won't find many guys who have as much respect for the game as he does."
Boldt is eligible for the draft again this year and is projected as the No. 39 pick by MLB.com. If he were taken in that slot, he would be the program's highest selection since Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals went No. 2 overall in 2005.
"I don't focus too much on the draft," Boldt said. "It's obviously there and it might be in the back of my mind at times. If I play as well as I can and help the team win, everything will take care of itself."