‘Ultimate honor’: Hometown hero to be enshrined where it all beganWhen Darin Erstad thinks about his hometown, baseball doesn’t enter his thoughts. “The word that always comes to my mind for Jamestown is family,” he said. Jamestown’s native son knows ability played a big part in his ascension through the baseball ranks that started on the fields of the Buffalo City and eventually put him on top of the world.
By: By Chris Aarhus, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
When Darin Erstad thinks about his hometown, baseball doesn’t enter his thoughts.
“The word that always comes to my mind for Jamestown is family,” he said.
Jamestown’s native son knows ability played a big part in his ascension through the baseball ranks that started on the fields of the Buffalo City and eventually put him on top of the world.
A member of the 2002 world champion Anaheim Angels and currently the head baseball coach at the University of Nebraska, Erstad said none of his accomplishments would have been possible without hometown support.
“The support I received not just from family and friends, but from the whole community was overwhelming,” Erstad said. “To have a whole town and home state in your corner is really a powerful feeling.”
The state remains firmly in his corner, evident by the honor he’s to receive on Saturday. Erstad will be inducted into the North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, along with fellow pro baseball standout Rick Helling — a Lakota native — and legendary Hillsboro High School basketball coach Ed Beyer. The ceremony starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Jamestown Civic Center.
It’s yet another award for Erstad, who has picked up most of the sporting honors this state has to offer.
“This is the ultimate honor,” said Erstad of the induction. “This is my roots. This is where it all started. It’s just an absolute honor to even be considered for this. It’s very humbling.”
Though North Dakota doesn’t send many athletes to the professional ranks, the three-time Gold Glove award winner and two-time All-Star said he hopes younger kids use his accomplishments as motivation.
“It’s great to show that it’s possible to come from North Dakota and have success,” Erstad said. “Myself, Rick Helling, Travis Hafner — it’s great to be a part of that group.”
He even remembers when the possibility of him having an impact finally hit home.
“When it really starts to hit you is when you’re on the plane flight from triple-A to Anaheim and then, you get in the box for that first at-bat,” said Erstad, who will also be in town for his 20-year high school reunion. “No matter what happens from that point, you accomplished something that was kind of against the odds.”
Erstad’s 14-year career included a .282 batting average. His best season came in 2000, when he hit .355 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in. For Erstad, all the numbers pale in comparison to what he felt after winning the World Series.
“Winning a World Series and being part of a team championship — that’s the reason I always played sports,” Erstad said. “To be on top of that mountain at the highest level is something I’ll cherish forever. There are tons of players that never had the opportunity.”
Erstad’s athletic prowess wasn’t limited to the diamond. He was also a punter on Nebraska’s 1994 national championship football team. In high school, he was all-state in football, hockey and won state titles in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
Still, it was baseball that drove his childhood aspirations.
“It’s absolutely a dream. I’m like a lot of kids that have the dream of playing Major League Baseball,” Erstad said. “To get to live that dream — it still doesn’t seem real.
“Were there negatives? Sacrifices? Absolutely. Every sacrifice was completely worth it.”
Sun sports writer Chris Aarhus can be reached at (701) 952-8462 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org