Feb. 18, 2010
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - At the Opening Night Dinner for the Irish baseball program (the ninth annual edition) tonight, there was a new wrinkle involved with the event moving from the north dome field house (where instead the second round of the Bengal Bouts took place Tuesday night) to the floor of Purcell Pavilion.
WHME's Chuck Freeby (radio voice of Notre Dame baseball) opened by introducing the 2010 Irish team, then threw in a dig at MC Jeff Jeffers (from WNDU) by identifying him as "a former assistant baseball coach at Notre Dame - and yet the program has survived." Fans filled 57 tables on the basketball floor, with another 100 or more fans in the Purcell Pavilion seats as part of a general admission offering. The event drew a larger than usual media contingent, in particular due to new Irish football coach Brian Kelly's presence.
Coach Dave Schrage kidded that you can count on it snowing in South Bend any time the opening dinner is scheduled. Former Indiana governor Joe Kernan led the crowd in a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," while wearing sunglasses.
Schrage noted the 30 returning players compared to five freshmen -- and remembered back to last spring when his team did not make the NCAA bracket and he had to think of what to say to his players. He also held up the 2010 team T-shirt with the number 898 on it - signifying the numbers of all the players on the roster added together.
Speaker Ron Reed, a former Notre Dame star in both baseball and basketball and a longtime MLB pitcher and NBA veteran now living in Atlanta (originally from LaPorte, Ind.), began by welcoming Kelly to the Notre Dame family. He also told the story of being the winning Atlanta Brave pitcher the night Hank Aaron hit his record 715th home run. He talked about facing the San Francisco Giants Juan Marichal in his first MLB start, including Willie Mays (he got Mays out) and Willie McCovey (he hit a home run). Finally, he read some typically hilarious remarks from Hall of Famer Yogi Berra.
Kelly received a standing ovation before he ever said a word. He referred to Schrage's 898 shirt and used the phrase "next man in" -- in other words, nobody is indispensible and everyone has to contribute. Kelly said winning once in a while is one thing - winning consistently is another matter. "Everybody has a value on this team. Everybody has to be ready to contribute," he said. Kelly talked about "unconscious competence" as being the key to winning on a consistent basis, as it happens naturally - and suggested the Irish baseball team is close to that next stage.
During the Q&A period, Kelly was asked by a youngster if there were any season tickets he could have. Reed's "best advice" was that these are the five most important things a pitcher needs -- have control, learn ball movement, have control, have some velocity, and have control. Kelly talked about having shorter, high-tempo practices and trying to find a way to shorten the days for his players to keep them fresh. Finally, the Irish captains presented Kelly and Reed with framed green Irish baseball jerseys.