They’re still sporting those familiar red and white colors. But for Cody Asche, Jake Diekman and Darin Ruf—not only teammates and good friends but Cornhuskers through and through---their loyalty shifts in the spring and summer from Nebraska to the Phillies.
Like the rest of the Phils they’ve struggled at times this painful season—each needing a stint in the minors to resuscitate their respective games. But now the Cornhusker Three have been reunited, leaning on each other through the hard times, as well as the good.
``It’s definitely been—no pun intended—an up and down year for all of us,’’ said the 24- year-old Asche, who grew up in St. Louis, before attending Nebraska, eventually making a home in Lincoln where he trains in the off-season with Diekman. ``But we’re good friends and continue to pull for each other.
``It’s a small world. Ruf was actually my host when I went on a recruiting trip to Creighton. Our wives are good friends too.’’
In fact, Darin and Libby Ruf housed a number of Phillies last October before Cody and Angela tied the knot.
``A lot of our teammates came in on Friday and spend the night at our house in Omaha,’’ said Ruf, who was unsuccessful as a recruiter, but later became friends with Asche when they played at Reading in 2012 ``Then we drove to Lincoln on Saturday and stayed there, before the festivities Sunday.
``I played against him in college and knew who he was. I didn’t know Jake until my first spring training, then we played together in Lakewood. And (former Phillie) Tyler Cloyd was from Omaha, so at one point there were four of us.’’
Still, the odds against of Ruf, Asche and Diekman all winding up here had to be staggering. ``It’s cool to have a couple of guys from that state here,’’ said Asche, whose claim that he once saw Ruf hit a walkoff homer in the College World Series in Omaha has just one flaw. ``I never played in the college World Series,’’ laughed Ruf.
``There aren’t too many of us (Nebraskans) in the league,’’ continued Ashe. ``I think everyone looked up to Alex Gordon.’’
Long before Gordon there was a certain Hall of Fame Phillie from Tilden , NE. Yet until they got here none of them had any idea Richie Ashburn was a fellow Cornhusker. They’ve learned that and become more comfortable since coming here, but it will never be quite like home.
`` I’m from Wymore,’’ said the 27-year-old Diekman, who first got to know Asche when they played together at Lehigh Valley in 2013, before they decided to train together in Lincoln. ``That’s four miles from the Kansas border, 50 minutes from Omaha.
``I don’t like big cities. Big cities are too stressful. I’d rather see 15 mules in front of me,, so I’ll probably never leave Nebraska.’’
Ruf likes the old neighborhood as well. `` I love going back there,’’ said Ruf, who’s never come close to approaching his 14 homers in 251 at bats after the Phils brought him up in July, 2013. ``You’re just an average person.
``No one knows you’re a professional baseball player and could care less, so you can go about your day and do whatever you want.’’
Especially on Saturdays in the fall, where only one thing matters to Nebraskans: the Cornhuskers. `` No one does anything,’’ explained Diekman, about the state’s obsession with college football. ``Saturday’s during the off-season are the best day ever.
``The month between the end of the regular season and start of the bowl season is the worst month ever.’’
By then Diekman and Asche are usually heavily into training. ``We had to work out,’’ reasoned Jake. ``So why not together?’’
``I moved to Lincoln,’’ said Asche, who said he spoke regularly with Ruf and Diekman during the times they were sent back to Lehigh Valley earlier in the season. ``It was just a natural fit to get together.’’
Until they all head back home in a few months to cheer on the Huskers, they’re happy in those same Phillies’ colors.
`` People follow the Phillies here and I get recognized a lot,’’ said the soon-to-turn 28-year-old Ruf. ``Back home it’s more Cards, Cubs and Royals--unless you’re a true diehard fan.’’
Meaning they probably don’t even realize 1,268 miles away in Philadelphia three of their own are doing them proud.