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Welcome to the Big Leagues, A.J.

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Former Notre Dame standout A.J. Pollock collected his first MLB hit last night, lining a 2-1 Jose Contreras pitch into right field during the eighth inning of Arizona's 9-5 victory over Philadelphia.

Check out MLB.com's video above, and visit the @DBacks Twitter stream for a picture of Pollock with the game ball.

Congrats, A.J.

In the words of Diamondbacks color analyst Mark Grace, "Hopefully that's the first of, well, at least a couple thousand."

Chuck In the Armor - Georgetown Preview

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Notre Dame hits the midpoint of the BIG EAST season this weekend, sitting at the .500 mark in conference play. The Irish head to Georgetown, trying to do something our politicians can't...get something done in Washington, D.C.

I'm no Karl Rove or David Axelrod, but here are the issues I think the Irish should focus on in order to get a landslide victory.

Reduce the deficit: It's great the Irish have shown THE ability to comeback from four runs down. It would be even better not to put themselves in those situations. Mik Aoki has directly challenged his team to play with more urgency from the outset of games. They did it Friday night against Cincinnati, but it has to happen more than once a week.

Focus on the economy....of pitches. Normally, the Irish starters are strike throwers, but that wasn't the case last weekend. Will Hudgins wasn't his usual sharp self, falling behind in counts. Pat Connaughton needed 80 pitches to get through just four innings. He frequently seemed to be overthrowing, and not following through. Finding the strike zone will result in fewer pitches and longer starts.

Strengthen the defense...The shortstop position has accounted for 20 errors in 35 games, and that's one reason for the increased pitch count. The pitchers have to help their own cause, though. They have made six errors, most frequently on bunts. Georgetown has some speedsters in Justin Leeson and Rand Ravnaas who like to bunt for hits, so Notre Dame better be prepared for small ball.

Find renewable energy...It's not surprising a young team like the Irish might be hitting a wall at this point of the year. 35 games is a full high school season, but there's still six weeks to go in the college season. The week off from games may help the youngsters, as well as junior catcher Joe Hudson, who has been behind the plate for every game but one this year.

Emphasize health care...Charlie Markson should be fully recovered from his virus. Trey Mancini is expected to be back from the wrist contusion. Even Hudson's thumb which has been hurting since early in the season should be a little better.

Be aware of a foreign power...Georgetown used to be the BIG EAST doormat, but Peter Wilk has the best team he's had in 15 years on the Hill. The Hoyas enter the weekend above .500 and just a game behind Notre Dame in the conference. Leeson is a quality leadoff man with speed, Ravnaas is a legitimate all-BIG EAST selection, and Stanford transfer Mike Garza is an offensive force.

Pitching and defense continue to be a problem for the Hoyas. They allow five earned runs per game and have committed 60 errors. The Irish need to be the aggressor and make Georgetown feel more like North Korea.

Don't be distracted by anything else...the bucolic setting of Shirley Povich Field, throwback uniforms and the like. These are the issues that are important. It will require sweat, effort and sacrifice (both bunts and flies). But as a team...together everyone achieving more...victory can be achieved for God, country and Notre Dame!

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

Pollock Gets The Call

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They're less than two weeks into the young MLB season, but the Arizona Diamondbacks have already been hampered by a slew of key injuries. While it might be tough news for D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, it has presented former Notre Dame standout A.J. Pollock with a special opportunity.

The Hebron, Conn. native was called up from Triple-A Reno last night, and could make his MLB debut today or tomorrow. Pollock was hitting .340 through 12 games with the Aces. Nick Piecoro has more in the Arizona Republic.

Notre Dame assistant director of media relations and baseball sports information director Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) also uncovered some great data on the Irish in the big leagues.

Pollock's debut will make him the 73rd former Irish player to appear in the MLB, seventh-most from any school, and first among those in the BIG EAST.

Total Players in MLB History (NCAA)
  • USC - 103
  • Texas - 101
  • Arizona State - 99
  • Stanford - 83
  • Holy Cross - 77
  • Michigan - 77
  • Notre Dame - 73
  • Arizona - 69
  • Illinois - 69
  • UCLA - 68

Total Players in MLB History (BIG EAST)
  • Notre Dame - 73
  • Villanova - 49
  • Georgetown - 36
  • Seton Hall - 28
  • West Virginia - 24
  • Rutgers - 21
  • Cincinnati - 18
  • St. John's - 18
  • Pittsburgh - 16
  • USF - 12
  • Connecticut - 11
  • Louisville - 3

When Pollock debuts for the Diamondbacks, possibly tonight against Pittsburgh or tomorrow in the series opener versus Atlanta, he will become the fourteenth Irish player to appear in an MLB game since the draft began in 1965.

It's been a relatively quick road to the show for Pollock, who spent the 2009 season right here in South Bend with the Class A Silver Hawks. He underwent arm surgery in 2010, and rebounded in 2011 with a strong season at Class AA Mobile (.307, 41 2B, 8 HR, 73 RBI).

Among other fast call-ups in Irish MLB history were RHP Aaron Heilman (748 days), current Chicago Cubs RHP Jeff Samardzija (780 days), and LHP Dan McGinn (948 days).

For position players, OF Dan Peltier (1,117 days) was the quickest to the big leagues, followed by two-time World Series champion INF Craig Counsell (1,203 days).

The Diamondbacks host the Pirates today at 3:40 pm ET in the finale of a three-game set. Follow @NDBaseball on Twitter as Pollock looks to make his major league debut.

Chuck In the Armor - 4.13.12

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On Super Bowl Sunday, Clint Eastwood declared "it's halftime in America," a rallying speech intended to get the public fired up about buying cars in Detroit.

It's just a little bit past halftime in the Notre Dame baseball season, and the Irish need something to get them fired up right now.  They've lost five in a row, seven of their last eight, and it seems nothing is going right.

I'm here to tell you that can all change this weekend. This isn't Pollyanna speak.  I don't wear  rose-colored glasses as I write this.  

The main thing Notre Dame is missing right now is confidence.

You can see it in every move they don't make, every step they don't take. Confident teams don't hesitate going after balls in the outfield. Confident teams don't hesitate running the bases.  Confident teams shrug off mistakes, rather than dwelling on them.

This is not a confident bunch right now.  The weekend sweep at Seton Hall left deep marks on the psyche of this team, and they are still thinking about things that happened a week ago.

They need to think about what happened a month ago.

They need to think back to that Sunday night at Alex Box Stadium when 10,000 people thought they were showing up for an Irish wake, and instead watched Notre Dame not just beat LSU, but whip them 7-1.  They need to remember they made errors in that game and bounced back with double plays. They need to remember they had enough speed to pressure a top 10 team into making mistakes on bunts.  They need to remember that when everyone expected them to fail, they delivered clutch two-out hits.

What has changed about that team? Injuries and illness to Trey Mancini and Charlie Markson? They're coming back.  No, the difference is this squad between then and now is only the pressure they put on themselves. That Notre Dame team took the field relaxed with no pretense.  Now it looks as though every at-bat, every pitch and every ground ball carries the weight of the world with it.

To a certain extent, the Irish need to adopt the Rhett Butler approach and frankly, not give a blank.  That's not playing with apathy... it's just not playing with pressure. It's playing loose, letting it rip, and if you make a mistake, forget about it and move on to the next pitch.

The last place team in the BIG EAST, the Cincinnati Bearcats, are coming to town.  They've lost seven one-run games and a pair of two-run games, so they've had their hearts not only broken, but picked apart like Play-Doh. Their marquee win came over Pittsburgh, the next-to-last team in the conference. Brian Cleary's 11-21 squad is having a tough season, and they're not going to play with any pressure on them.  

The Irish need to respond in kind. 

t's much too early to say this season is "Gone with the Wind." It's only halftime in South Bend.  Confidence can be built anew just like an American car, and the Irish can start rolling on the winning track again.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Western Michigan

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Notre Dame returns to the Frank Eck Stadium diamond this evening, in a non-conference matchup against Western Michigan.

UND.com will stream the game live at 5:35 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Samardzija Nearly Goes Distance

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The Chicago Cubs picked up their first win of the season on Sunday, thanks to a strong performance on the mound from former Notre Dame wide receiver/pitcher Jeff Samardzija. The righty from Vaparaiso, Ind. pitched 8.2 innings, allowing four hits and three runs, while striking out eight.

This is the Cubs we're talking about, so naturally, the game was more dramatic than expected. Samardzija looked poised for a complete game one-run performance, before a two-out error and a two-run home run made it a 4-3 game.

Here's an excerpt from Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. See the entire article on the South Bend Tribune website:

As Wrigleyville held its breath, closer Carlos Marmol came in and walked the first batter, conjuring up memories of the first two blown games by the Cubs' bullpen.

But Marmol induced Xaver Nady to pop out, ending a dramatic 4-3 win before 31,973 at Wrigley Field.

For Samardzija, the nail-biting win was about as sweet as it gets.

"I really feel like I have a chip on my shoulders, because I've talked a big game about wanting to start and made it public," Samardzija said. "I don't want to look like an idiot."

Samardzija is expected to start again on Friday when the Cubs open a weekend series at the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.

Chuck In the Armor - 4.4.12

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563583_392201520799155_150002341685742_1472064_1179325124_n.jpg Since the Irish wore the throwback uniforms last week - and I wore the throwback fedora - let me share a throwback moment with you.

Prior to my first season as a hockey broadcaster 20 years ago, I had stopped in to chat with Notre Dame hockey coach Ric Schafer. I wanted to know the sport I would be broadcasting better, so I asked him "what's the one thing every hockey fan should know that they don't?"

Ric didn't hesitate. He replied quickly "It's a very simple game. It's a race to four. If you get to four, you win 95 percent of the time."

In hockey, it's four. For Notre Dame's baseball team, the magic number is six.

When the Irish hold teams to five runs or less this year, they are 14-1. Let me repeat that ... 14-1 when the opponent scores five or less. That's 93 percent of the time, and good enough for me.

The staff earned run average is 3.97, so it stands to reason if the Irish don't give the other team help, an average outing should be enough to earn a win. And another stat backs that up. When Notre Dame makes one error or none, they are 15-5.

In fact, there are very few innings where the other team is scoring without some help from the Irish. Over the last 10 games, there have been 25 different innings when the opponent has scored. 20 of those innings featured at least one walk or error.

And at the risk of deluging you in statistics, here's one from the Irish offense that bears mentioning. When the Irish are successful, it's because the bottom of the order helps the cause. Over those last 10 games, the bottom third of the Irish order (usually Alex Robinson, Charlie Markson and the shortstop of the day) is 21-for-69 (.304) in seven wins and 5-for-29 (.172) in three losses. When those 7-8-9 hitters do something, Notre Dame's lineup is formidable.

As Durham Bulls manager Joe Riggins once told his lollygagging team, "This is a very simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." When the Irish do those things, they are tough to beat.

That's good news heading into a weekend series with Seton Hall, a team that has really struggled at the plate this year. The defending Big East tournament champs are 13-14 overall, 2-4 in league play. They can beat good teams, as evidenced by a 5-2 win at Virginia. They can lose to bad teams, such as a 3-1 home loss to St. Peter's.

The inconsistency is mainly because the Pirates are batting .237 as a team. Seton Hall plays in the biggest park in America east of Yellowstone (it's about an eighth of a mile to right center) so Rob Sheppard's team plays small ball to manufacture runs ... bunting, stealing bases. That means the Irish bunt defense, which has been everywhere from nifty to non-existent, needs to be ready.

On the mound, Seton Hall has a bonafide ace in Jon Prosinski, but relies heavily on the bullpen after that. With a staff ERA even lower than Notre Dame's (3.73), the Pirates would like to make this a low-scoring series.

A Notre Dame team much worse than this one swept the Pirates in South Orange two years ago. A series win is definitely doable, and a must if the Irish have conference title aspirations.

The race to six is on.

It's a very simple game.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

Live Blog: Baseball vs. Toledo

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Notre Dame returns to the diamond this evening, in a non-conference matchup against Toledo.

UND.com will stream the game live at 5:35 pm ET, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout today's Irish baseball action. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

Caption Contest

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"Once upon a time ..."

Chuck In the Armor - 3.29.12

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The voice of Notre Dame baseball is back with the latest installment of 'Chuck In the Armor'

Rain delays lead to interesting press box discussions. As the Eck Stadium sound system blared out "Blame it on the Rain", someone asked who sings this? When baseball media relations director Michael Bertsch informed the inquisitor it was the ill-fated band Milli Vanilli, the pups in the box turned with blank stares before one asked "who's Milli Vanilli"?

If they don't know Milli Vanilli, they probably won't know Gloria Estefan, and they certainly won't know Vickie Sue Robinson. In 1994, Estefan had a #1 dance song with a remake of Robinson's hit "Turn the Beat Around". Before you think I've suddenly turned into Kasey Kasem (that's a predecessor to Ryan Seacrest for the youngsters), that song could be the theme for the baseball teams from Notre Dame and South Florida this year.

Both the Irish and Bulls are enjoying baseball resurrections so far this year, bouncing back from rugged 2011 campaigns. Notre Dame is 15-8, South Florida stands 18-8, and both swept its season-opening Big East series.

And both teams face the recurring question from the fan base and media alike ... are they really this good?

For Irish fans, the question reared its ugly head after Tuesday night's 8-5 loss at UIC. It was a night where all facets of the Irish game fell short, but particularly the defense.

Here's something to keep in mind. In Notre Dame's eight losses, the Irish have committed 23 errors. In the 15 wins, they have combined for just 12. Ask anyone on the Irish and they feel they gave away games against Purdue, Michigan and UIC. Put those three in the win column, and suddenly the Irish would be 18-5...but they're not ... because they didn't focus on fundamentals and make plays.

Now you go to Tampa, Notre Dame baseball's version of Amityville. In 2008, the Irish season melted down there on the final weekend of the season. In 2010, Notre Dame was no-hit by Randy Fontanez Friday night, swept on Saturday and never recovered.

There's a determination among this Irish team that's different, though, particularly among the Florida contingent of Joe Hudson, Trey Mancini and A.C. Carter. I could see it in Hudson's eyes and hear it in his voice during Sunday's postgame interview. This series means a lot to him ... going back home, facing former mates, showing everyone the real Joe Hudson, not the kid who sat the bench for three games in his hometown in 2010. I'm sure the same is true for Mancini and Carter as they return to the Sunshine State.

It's a tough task. USF will be as formidable a road foe as the Irish will face in the Big East this year. Their Friday night starter, 6-8 lefty Andrew Barbosa, is coming off a 13-strikeout one-hit performance against Georgetown last week. Saturday starter Joey Lovecchio is 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA. The entire pitching staff has an ERA of 2.96.

Offensively, speedy James Ramsay swings the bat at .363 clip with eight stolen bases, with seven regulars hitting above .265. And defensively, the Bulls can pick it, with just 24 errors in 25 games.

But USF is not invincible. Here's a team that has played one...that's right...one road game. It was in Orlando. They played three at "neutral" sites in the Big East/Big Ten challenge, all within a half-hour drive of campus. That means teams like Eastern Illinois, Lafayette and Jacksonville have gone into USF and beaten the Bulls. Bethune-Cookman went in and took two out of three in February.

Can the Irish do the same? Pitching and defense will be key. Runs will be at a premium for both sides. The scores may look like hockey games.

The other factor, though, will be resiliency, and I've seen enough to tell you Notre Dame has it. The Irish fell down 4-0 to Pitt and didn't flinch. The same held true Tuesday night at UIC. A year ago, Mik Aoki made an impassioned Good Friday speech to his team to live up to the moniker Fighting Irish. This team is doing it.

They're not a bunch of lip syncers. Notre Dame is ready to turn the beat around.

- Chuck Freeby ('86)

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