May 27, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The alma mater, "Notre Dame, Our Mother," is that song we know from the end of every football game. It was originally composed for the stadium dedication in 1930, but was more widely known after being played at Knute Rockne's funeral that following March.
What happened to this baseball team is not nearly as horrific as a plane crash, but the feeling of a funeral has pervaded for this team ever since about 2:30 Sunday afternoon when the final out of the 2013 BIG EAST championship game was recorded. Outside the clubhouse, third-year head coach Mik Aoki admitted he would be chewed up all summer wondering how this team didn't finish well in April and May. Inside, there was a stunned silence, as the players sat in a circle wondering their fate.
Notre Dame, our mother, tender, strong and true...
Around midnight, a former Notre Dame player, Mike Rooney, tweeted that prayers should be offered to "Our Lady of the at-large bid" and it seemed to perk the spirits of the team. There was still hope that a season could survive. There was still some fight left in the Fighting Irish.
Proudly in the heavens gleams thy gold and blue
After all, this was a team that played as tough a schedule as there was in the North. It had won 34 games, including beating the Big 12 champ, blanking an ACC tournament finalist, taking two of three at Cal Poly. The RPI was 32, the strength of schedule was 46 and Notre Dame was one of 11 schools in the county that owned a winning record over at least 15 games against the RPI top 50. The Irish knew they could play with anyone, if only they were offered the chance.
Glory's mantle cloaks thee, tender is thy fame
Ah, but that fame was so tender ... after all, Notre Dame had lost three straight BIG EAST series in May, and two against teams with losing records. They finished with a losing record in conference action. Would the selection committee see the beauty or the scars?
And our hearts forever praise thee Notre Dame
And so the team that won as a team, lost as a team, prayed as a team. They went to the Grotto at 11:15 a.m. to offer one last plea for help. They returned to Club Naimoli at 11:45 a.m. for a meal they hoped wouldn't be their Last Supper. They watched, and waited ... but there was no praise for Notre Dame from the selection committee. The moment the pairings for Bloomington, Ind., popped on the screen and didn't include the Irish, they knew the season ... and for some, their careers ... were over.
And our hearts forever...
I wasn't there with the boys today. I have to be honest ... I just didn't have the courage. I couldn't stand to see the disappointment and the tears for a second straight day. I tear up pretty easily anyway and I would have been a faucet today. But maybe this way, I can remember the good things ... the 12 one-run wins, the four walk-offs, the pitching mastery of an Adam Norton ... the defense of a Frank Desico ... the hustle of a Charlie Markson. I can remember talking Blackhawks with my boy, Ricky Palmer, or hearing about the latest read from Breck Ashdown or discussing wedding plans with Patrick Veerkamp. And I can know that their four-year choices will indeed pay off to be the 40-year choices they will appreciate well down the road.
Love thee Notre Dame.