Sure, many times Jeff Christy wondered if all of his volunteer coaching duties on the collegiate baseball level would ever matter. Maybe, in fact, he had made the wrong career decision.
Writing scouting reports and giving lessons might look good on a resume, but when that fails to pay the bills for six years, doubt creeps in.
“Sometimes, you just questions at times, like, ‘Is this going to happen?’ ” Christy said, “because you put in so many hours and you put in so much time and effort into it.”
That Christy, a Lincoln native and Nebraska graduate, finally reached his coaching dream as a member of the Nebraska staff made his long wait worth even more.
Christy, who caught a school-record 64 games as a junior and was a member of Nebraska’s last College World Series team in 2005, joins new head coach Will Bolt’s staff as pitching coach after spending the past two years as a volunteer assistant at Texas A&M.
Before that, Christy had spent three years volunteering at Nebraska, and before that, a year under legendary coach Gene Stephenson at Wichita State. In between, he spent two years at Central Oklahoma, an NCAA Division II school, as a paid assistant.
But Division I has always been his goal, no matter how long the wait, no matter how much the sacrifice.
“I feel like I’m a pretty even-keel guy. I would say I feel like I have been patient,” Christy said Thursday after the news conference that officially announced Bolt as Nebraska’s head coach. “Now, obviously there’s things that can get you a little bit, but overall, I’ve tried to keep it level-headed and be patient with a lot of things.
“You have to be. You learn, keep things in perspective.”
Christy made ends meet thanks to income from baseball camps and lessons. He also said he’s fortunate to have a wife with a full-time job to help financially support their family of three children.
“That made us continue on that roll,” he said. “Now that it’s happened, yeah, it’s well worth it.”
As an American Legion player and a student-athlete at Lincoln Southeast High School, Christy joked that his only concerns, as it related to his future in whatever profession, were to catch the baseball, hit the baseball and work with pitchers.
“I didn’t have too much of a vision at that point in time,” he said.
That changed after a couple of years playing at Nebraska, and then in the Minnesota Twins organization, where he reached the Triple-A level.
“Once I got to my junior and senior year and I got into pro ball, I really enjoyed that side of it, the thinking of the game,” Christy said. “That was something that really caught my eye, thinking, ‘Oh, I think I can do this for a living.’ ”
At long last, he is.
Securing state borders
When Lance Harvell sat down with Bolt and Christy in their first meeting as members of the Nebraska baseball coaching staff, the first topic was not only recruiting, but stressing the importance of recruiting in the state of Nebraska.
“That’s our number one priority,” Harvell said Thursday. “That’s something we put a huge emphasis on right now.”
Harvell will serve as Nebraska’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. During his time at Sam Houston State, Harvell established himself as the top recruiting coordinator in the Southland Conference by D1Baseball.com in 2016.
Harvell said he’s already talked with some Nebraska high school coaches, joking that he may need an auxiliary battery for his cell phone, given all the hours he’s recently spent on it.
“There’s talent here,” Harvell said. “If you’re looking through the right lenses and knowing what you’re looking for, guys that fit your system and what you’re trying to do, it’s easy to see those guys. They stand out. There are guys in the state of Nebraska that fit what we’re trying to do.”
Harvell also spent three years at Texarkana College, including two under Bolt, as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator from 2010 to 2012. In his time at Texarkana, the Bulldogs produced some of the best offenses in their conference and region in terms of production, leading the conference in batting in 2011 and 2012.
Harvell spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons as a graduate assistant coach at Texas A&M, where played as a walk-on from 2005-06.
Establishing open, honest relationships with area coaches will pay dividends, Harvell said.
“That’s a big part of it, too, fostering those relationships,” he said, “making sure those guys know we’re here, whether we get their players or not.”
Catchers Know Pitchers
When he was a senior at Nebraska, Christy called pitches on his own as the Huskers’ starting catcher, a duty that has served him well in his coaching career, especially now as Nebraska’s pitching coach.
“For me, I feel like I’ve probably been a defensive guy my whole life,” Christy said. “I’ve always enjoyed the pitching side of things and I’ve always enjoyed working with pitchers, even as a player.”
Christy said serving as Central Oklahoma’s pitching coach in his two years at the school solidified his thoughts on holding that position in the future. That, he said, is when he discovered he really enjoyed that side of the game.
Even if Nebraska’s catchers aren’t calling the game, the biggest factor for them, Christy said, will be getting to know and understand their pitchers, and offering feedback, realizing what’s working, and what’s not.
A quality catcher, after all, can help out pitchers dramatically. Christy wants them on the same page.
“When you call pitches, you have to know the guy inside and out – what they can do, what they can’t do, how they pitch,” Christy said. “I think that was the biggest thing for me, just sitting down with each guy. I was like, ‘I’ve got to figure this out, who you are.’ Because when you’re a guy that’s getting pitches called for you, sometimes that can just go by the wayside, and you’re just looking at Coach, and it’s like, ‘OK, well, I’m just going to put down the finger that he calls,’ and you’re not really thinking along with the game and trying to set guys up.
“You learn a lot, and you learn a lot quickly.”
As Nebraska’s hitting coach, Harvell said he’ll share those duties with Bolt, although he said he won’t be afraid to speak his mind and do his own thing.
“I’m a mover and a shaker,” he said, “and if I see something, I’m just going it to jump on it and do it.”
Harvell said Nebraska will have a dynamic offensive system that could be explained in terms of both lengthening and shortening the field.
“We’re going to recruit to a system, and we’re going to build a team that can beat you in a lot of different ways,” he said. “It’s going to be a blend of strength and speed.
“We’re going to have guys in the lineup that can bunt and beat you that way, and when those corner guys start to suck in, we’re going to have guys in the lineup that can lengthen the field and shoot it down the line past those guys.”
Harvell said Nebraska will have enough players and depth through recruiting to play different lineups depending on various factors, including weather.
“There will be some adaptability with the lineup,” he said. “It’s never one or the other.”
Harvell doesn’t come to Nebraska entirely cold. He’s been to a football game here. His mother-in-law, a native of Seward, when to school at Nebraska. And oh, Harvell has been to Haymarket Park, both as a Texas A&M player and a coach, in its glory days.
“It was rocking and rolling then,” Harvell said. “You walk into that stadium and Haymarket Park, and it’s intimidating. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
It will also serve him well in recruiting. Once the staff gets players to campus, the facilities will sell themselves, he said.
“It’s a special place,” Harvell said. “There’s a lot of energy right now, not just with baseball, but with Nebraska athletics.”