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August 29, 2014

The View from the Loge Level

Erstad and Percival in the Coaching Game

by Daron Sutton


For a nine-year span, from 1994-2004, Troy Percival and Darin Erstad were teammates and eventual champions as Angels. But this duo formed a bond well beyond that of cohabiting a roster. The former college catcher Percival and Erstad understood each other’s intensity, drive and discipline, which carried them to very memorable careers. They would share a daily ride to the ballpark on the road, a carpool that on most days would have them arriving long before their teammates. Percival will kiddingly tell you that he and Erstad were close because no one else had the courage to attempt to do so based on Darin’s dogged approach to the game and gruff personality. Then in the next breath Troy would say something like he said to me back in 2007 when both had moved on to other organizations:

“I can’t say enough. He’s given his body to the game. The guys could’ve probably played 15-20 years, but the way he played the game you have to respect it,” Percival said, while a member of the Cardinals. “I’ve told this to people a lot: I’d come in to get a courtesy inning the last inning with a six-run deficit or lead and he’s still diving in the gap trying to make a play to save his teammates, save me pitches and runs crossing the plate. That’s the type of guy you want out there behind you.”

Erstad was behind Percival on October 27, 2002 and he made a play on a fly ball like he’d made 1,000 times before, but as we all know, it might be the most fondly recollected play in franchise history. They now both have the ring and the memories to prove it. Both are once again on the same playing field, but this time it’s as Division I college baseball coaches. Erstad just completed his third season at the helm at Nebraska, where he was an All-American punter on the Huskers’ 1994 National Championship team. Percival’s maiden voyage is in front of him as in July he was named head coach at UC Riverside, where he caught for three years. For both, these positions have served as a chance to return to a key starting point of their baseball journey.

“Percy, it means something to him to be there, like it means something to me to be at Nebraska. The guy built the clubhouse, I think, with his bare hands on his own dime. He’s invested in that university. On my side, this place has given me, outside of North Dakota, everything in my life—my kids, my family and my opportunity now on the field as a coach,” Erstad said. “My wife said it best. When we were deciding as a family if this head coaching thing was something we wanted to do, she just looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Darin you are in a position to effect kid’s lives in a positive way and that’s the most powerful thing you can have,’ and I was like, ‘Well..I’m in!’ Because that was one of coach (Tom) Osborne’s lines to me as that was the reason he coached.”

“Everybody knows my passion for the game,” said Percival. “It didn’t really matter at the time what level I was coaching at. I got into the high school coaching (Moreno Valley, Ca HS) and loved that. It was just the next natural step for me, especially getting to come back to my alma mater.”

But as Erstad mentioned, Percival had already come back to his college stomping ground regularly, but in 2007 he returned with hammer, nail and checkbook. Percival, his dad Richard and his father-in-law Jerry built the UCR baseball program a new clubhouse. This occurred during a brief hiatus late in his career. After the construction project, Troy pitched in 98 games in his final three seasons for St. Louis and Tampa Bay. But the clubhouse project is as unique of a give back as one can imagine, paid for and built by a man with 358 big-league saves.

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