Feb. 8, 2008
Notre Dame head baseball coach Dave Schrage is about to embark on his second year with the Irish. TheCollegeBaseballBlog.com recently sat down with the skipper to discuss his first season and the expectations surrounding the 2008 campaign.
Q: Notre Dame had a sub par campaign in 2007 that saw them go 28-28 and 11-14 in the Big East. ND returns six position starters and return four out of your five starters. What are the expectations for the 2008 team?
A: Well, our goal like every year is to win the BIG EAST. It was disappointing to fall short of that a year ago, but we plan on moving back to the top of the league and competing for the championship this year. We have a nice blend of returning veterans along with a very talented freshman class that gives us some much needed depth.
Q: Sean Gaston returns to the team after an injury kept him out for the 2007 season. How will having a strong veteran presence behind the plate will help your pitching staff out this year?
A: He is probably the single largest addition to our team this year. That was an area last year where we struggled. We led the conference in passed balls, which hurt our overall team defense. With a young pitching staff, including four freshman in rotation, it is huge to have someone with his experience behind the plate.
Q: Notre Dame had five recruits drafted in the 2007 draft. How do you deal with possibly losing some of your top recruits to MLB every summer?
A: It is a real delicate issue. When you recruit the young men, the staff has to do the necessary homework to get a feel that the student athlete is committed to getting an education. Sometimes, we might roll the dice, but if we are going to offer a quality scholarship to a recruit then we want to know he is committed to get a degree no matter what is going on with the draft. We also concentrate on getting to know the family of the recruit.
Q: The Fighting Irish never settled on a closer during the 2007 campaign. Who do you expect to take over in that role this year?
A: We are going back to Kyle Weiland, who did such a tremendous job as a freshman in 2006. Kyle is throwing the ball right now as well as anyone on our staff. It will be nice to have someone back there with some experience. We experimented with him in starting rotation due to lack of depth in 2007, but it is clear he will be one of the top closers in the country this year.
Q: The Big East has become a more solid conference over the last few years with the success of Louisville last season and Notre Dame being a fixture in the NCAA Tourney. Do you think the new uniform start date will level the playing field? Are you a fan of the uniform start date?
A: My honest opinion is that we have to wait and see how it will affect everything. I am for a uniform start date as far as games being played. I think that we were the only sport that was starting all over the board and lacked parity. As far as a fan of starting practice on Feb. 1, I am not sure that gives any of the schools enough time to prepare for playing, especially the first couple weekends. People may see some sloppy play those first few weekends. I am in favor of the starting date, but would like to have a little more time to prepare.
Q: What is your biggest challenge on and off the field in dealing with young men from 18-23?
A: We are in an age of communication with cell phones, text messaging, email, etc. and more than ever in this day and age need to communicate with players on daily basis. Kids especially at Notre Dame have so many things going on in lives from an academic standpoint. There are times when we need to know if they just took a tough chemistry or calculus final and how that might affect their focus. Our challenge is to help them balance that academic stress against the stress of playing competitive, high-caliber college baseball.
Q: What player or coach have you enjoyed working with the most?
A: The most enjoyable time that I have ever had was when I was an assistant under Jim Hendry (current Chicago Cubs General Manager). I was very young and learned so much about recruiting, handling players and teaching the game. Jim always kept you on your toes and challenged you every day. Coaching with him made me want to stay in the profession. I was able to see how as a college coach you can influence your players' lives. It just proved to me that this was something worthwhile and challenging.