Acker TD Ameritrade

Joe Acker (5) pushes off home plate toward first base at TD Ameritrade Park on Friday, May 24, 2019, in Omaha, Nebraska.

A 1-1 count against Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, Nebraska senior outfielder Joe Acker punched a single up the middle to send two runners home and put the Huskers up 2-1 early. 

With Acker’s momentum-shifting hit coming from the ninth spot in the batting order with no outs, the Huskers returned to the top of their lineup and put three more runs on the board before the inning ended. 

Acker said that batting in the final spot for the first time in his career represents the type of player he is. His job is to turn the lineup over and act as a second leadoff to help set up the top of the order with runners on base.

“If I had to describe my game to someone, my style isn’t super flashy and may not even be the prettiest but my job is always to help the team win,” Acker said. “I’m a competitor and winning will always come before my individual play.”

Originally from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Acker grew up a lifelong Milwaukee Brewers fan and fell in love with the team’s stadium, the now-renamed Miller Park, as a kid. However, baseball wasn’t talked about very often in his household and he said that it didn’t become his favorite sport until high school. 

“As a kid I played pretty much every sport, my dad wasn’t a really big baseball guy but my brother loved to watch the game,” Acker said. “My brother was probably the biggest person in my life that got me into the game.”

After graduating from Marquette High School in Wisconsin ranked as the best outfielder in the state and a top-300 player in the country, Acker struggled to find his groove during his first two years in college. Then, he broke out in his junior year in 2019 and has since turned into a reliable weapon for the Huskers.

After the 2020 season was cut short due to COVID-19, Acker returned for an extra year of eligibility to help bolster a strong Husker offense. Like the other seniors, he came back with aspirations of competing for a Big Ten championship.

“This season has meant a lot, just assuming last year would be the final chapter of my baseball career and forced with a tough decision,” Acker said. “As a team and myself we’ve had to sacrifice so much and it makes all the accomplishments this year that much more meaningful.”

The Huskers are off to a hot start this year, as they currently sit alone in third place, holding a 7-4 record after three weekends of Big Ten play. Acker has been a huge part of those wins, mostly batting in the ninth spot to flip the lineup over.

As second-year head coach Will Bolt has implemented a more “small ball” style, Acker has been called on to sacrifice for the team.

“For me, I think of it as a second leadoff and what the nine hole stands for is similar to what I stand for as a player,” Acker said. “Always doing what it takes to win whether it be a SAC fly or a bunt and I’ve really embraced that role.”

Acker has been a mainstay in the Huskers lineup thus far, starting all 11 games in the outfield. He currently holds a .282 batting average with a home run and eight runs batted in on the season.  

Bolt said that he’s impressed with the returning senior’s knack for hitting balls hard and almost always doing his job correctly.

“He’s got a great eye at the plate and really has come up big with runners on base, and that’s what you hope to get from a guy that came back,” Bolt said. “A fifth-year guy who’s seen a lot of college baseball, even his outs are loud and on the barrel.”

He was on a tear in 15 games played last season, batting a career-high average of .306, ranking second on the team. With such an impressive year before the stoppage, Acker was given team captain honors in his final season at Nebraska.

“It’s a huge honor to be named a captain at a school like Nebraska, but for me nothing really changes as I’ve always tried to lead by example,” Acker said. “Obviously the other guys who got named captain deserve it as well, but it’s something I’ll be grateful for forever.”

Leading by example was one of the reasons Acker was named a captain, and his hard work during practice puts it on display. Relaying to the dugout what he’s seen and taking in information from the top half of the lineup has made him very effective.

“He’s very consistent at what he does day-to-day and that tends to show up on gameday for him.” Bolt said. “He is always taking stuff from a pitcher, making them work and grind for outs against him.”

After he’s done playing baseball, Acker said that he hopes to stay in the game, whether it be as a coach or as a mentor to young players. He wants to show kids that sports can teach you as many lessons off the field as they do on it.

Acker said that the friendships and bonds he built at Nebraska will stick with him forever. Baseball has given him some perspective on how to handle life in the next chapter of his story, according to Acker.

“Baseball has taught me never to get too high and never to be too hard on yourself and that there will always be failure,” Acker said. “In general it has taught me you have to work hard for something that you want and nothing is ever guaranteed.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com