For the 500th game at Haymarket Park, it was fitting that Nebraska used the evening to honor Husker alumni and one man specifically who was behind so many of the monumental moments there, former Nebraska baseball and MLB pitcher Joba Chamberlain.
About 90 minutes before first pitch between Nebraska and Arizona State, Chamberlain stood at the concourse behind home plate, taking it all in. “I was trying to put (it all) together,” Chamberlain told the gaggle of reporters surrounding him. “Just watching and the things that happened… it’s hard just to soak it up in one breath.”
Standing at 6-foot-3, Chamberlain is a hulking mass of a man, but is looking a little leaner than he was during his playing days in the MLB. Sporting a beard, dark denim jeans and a backwards baseball cap, the retired pitcher still has a youthful but grizzled appearance.
Things are quieter now for the former New York Yankee. He lives in Lincoln and has a teenage son to take care of. He still follows the Huskers, too.
“Obviously there’s been ups and downs and changes but I think we’re in the right direction,” Chamberlain said. “We’ve got a great guy at the head (Darin Erstad).”
He doesn’t recall the last time he was at Haymarket Park but he can remember the moments that forged his stellar Husker career. Of all of those memories though, one stands out among the rest; the 2005 super regional against Miami. Chamberlain recalled on Sports Nightly Thursday night that before the series even began, the Huskers were out for blood.
Miami head coach Jim Morris had told his team that they were using the series as a warm up for Omaha, right in front of the Nebraska baseball team. “That was some bulletin board material for us,” Chamberlain said. “You guys aren’t that good,” he thought aloud.
The Huskers sent the Hurricanes packing, sweeping them to advance to their third College World Series in four seasons. They haven’t been back since. It’s one of the reasons why Chamberlain’s status still looms large in Lincoln. He was one of the engineers for one of the biggest moments in Husker baseball history. As he talked with reporters, he was given his own bobble head to hold, which were handed out to the first 1,000 fans to arrive at the ballpark.
“It’s kind of awkward,” Joba Chamberlain said with a laugh. “I think they did a pretty good job (with the bobble head). I don’t think I ever smiled that much when I was on the mound though,” he joked.
If he was uncomfortable with the ravenous attention, Chamberlain didn’t show it. He graciously took dozens of photos with eager fans. He did interviews with local media as people waited behind him, bobble heads in tow, waiting to grab his attention.
“I just love every second of it,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain threw out the first pitch as well. It was a strike. Just like old times.