Houston Astros OF/1B Darin Erstad's honor, integrity, and overall approach to the game exemplify the true meaning of baseball.
The Astros signed the two-time All-Star to a one-year contract prior to the 2008 season.
Erstad proved to be a valuable commodity for the club, hitting .276 with four home runs and 31 RBI in 322 at-bats.
The 14-year veteran demonstrates exceptional leadership in the clubhouse and acts as a tremendous role model to the younger ball players.
In August 2008, the Astros organization rewarded Erstad with a one-year extension with a club option for 2010.
The Jamestown, North Dakota native possesses an extensive sports background. At Jamestown High School, the multi-talented sports star participated on the football, hockey, and track and field teams.
Erstad kicked a 50-yard field goal as the team's place kicker, scored 36 goals in hockey, and won two state titles in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.
Since Jamestown High School did not have a baseball team, he played American Legion baseball, hitting .492 with 18 home runs and 86 RBI and posting a 10-2 record with a 2.18 ERA as a pitcher. His success on the field earned him AP North Dakota Athlete of the Year honors in 1992.
"Growing up in Jamestown, my dad and Tom Gould were my biggest sports influences. I was a die-hard Minnesota Twins fan and admired Kirby Puckett. In high school, the sports never overlapped each other and I was just an all-around athlete. I have self-discipline and experienced great guidance from my parents," Erstad said.
Despite his success in high school, Erstad generated little interest during the college recruiting process.
His summer American Legion baseball coach, Steve Gillispie, a former University of Nebraska assistant coach, informed Cornhuskers head coach John Sanders about a talented ball player from North Dakota.
Erstad received baseball scholarship offers from both Creighton University and Nebraska. He was drafted by the New York Mets in the 13th round of the 1992 draft but declined turning pro and accepted the offer to attend Nebraska.
"Coach Gillispie got me excited about Nebraska. He believed in me, and I wanted to be a part of their university," said Erstad.
At Nebraska, he replicated Bo Jackson by being a two-sport star in football and baseball. Erstad was the starting punter on the 1994 National Championship team for Tom Osborne, averaging 42.6 yards per punt.
"Coach Osborne always said that you can't control what's going on around you, but you can control what you do. I follow that advice to this day and was blessed to be able to play for him and the Cornhusker football team," he said.
In addition to his success on the football field, Erstad established himself as the top collegiate baseball player.
During his junior year, he knocked the cover off the ball and led the Big Eight Conference with a .410 average. The first-team All-American was the only conference player to get over 100 hits in the 1995 season.
"Transitioning to college was a great challenge. You definitely have to keep your hat on and stay focused. I started off with a 3.6 GPA and then dropped to a 2.2 GPA in the spring semester of my freshman year. It was tough missing classes to go on the road for baseball games. I made adjustments and cleaned up my mess after that," said Erstad.
In the 1995 amateur draft, the California Angels did not hesitate to select Erstad as the No. 1 overall pick. He progressed rapidly through the minors, playing Rookie-level ball for the AZL Angels and for Class A-Advanced Lake Elsinore in 1995.
Erstad was promoted all the way to Triple-A Vancouver in 1996, hitting .305 before making his Major League debut for the Angels on Jun. 14, 1996.
"The minors is literally a mental grind. You travel 12-14 hours on a bus and attempt to sleep. Sometimes, you'll arrive at the hotel at 2 pm and turn around and play a game one hour later. Looking back, I was pushed through the minors quickly, but at that time, the Angels lacked depth and needed me," he said.
Erstad's success in baseball has enabled the recipient of the 2005 Roberto Clemente Award to give back to the community.
He makes a significant difference in people's lives with his involvement in Big Brothers of Orange County and local Boys and Girls Clubs, speaking at baseball camps, and making donations to build baseball fields for kids needing a place to play.
"I enjoy giving back and helping people. It's all about the kids. Where I'm from in North Dakota, there are baseball fields everywhere. In California, several Little League teams don't have places to play, and I wanted to help build fields. I'm also involved with Special Olympics, and my wife and I are big supporters of child abuse programs," said Erstad.
Entering Spring Training, Erstad will officially begin his second season in an Astros uniform. The 34-year-old World Series champion (2002) expects the Astros to be a contender within the NL Central this season.
"The goal is to win the World Series. We had a great run toward the end of last season and the team returns several players. It's the same attitude and a new season. You play hard everyday and play to win."
The three-time Gold Glove Award winner accepts the responsibility of being a leader in the clubhouse.
"I try to help whenever I can. Guys will ask me questions, and I'll always do my best to help a teammate get better. I really don't feel like I've changed since coming into the big leagues in 1996. I try to live life the right way and be a good person," he said.
The Astros organization has faith in his ability and recognizes the positive difference in having Erstad on the field and in the locker room.
"You never stop playing hard and always do your best. Players must never forget how fun the game is, and you have to rise above the challenges and push forward," said Erstad.
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