Feb. 11, 2005
An overflow crowd of nearly 1,800 area baseball fans were on hand Thursday night at the Joyce Center Fieldhouse for the Notre Dame baseball program's fourth annual Opening Night Dinner, with two members of the Houston Astros - seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and closer Brad Lidge (a former standout with the Irish) - serving as the keynote speakers.
(Note: see photo gallery for additional images from the event.)
The night included a ballpark-style dinner and featured several video presentations. The admission price included becoming members of the season-ticket-holder base for the Notre Dame baseball program (season tickets may be ordered by calling 574-631-7356). The event reached its 1,750 capacity after just two weeks of ticket sales, with several hundred opting to be put on a waiting list in hopes of attending the unique event.
Attendees also had the chance to receive autographs from the current Notre Dame players prior to the dinner and each of the 30 players were seated with the fans at individual tables after being introduced to the group. Several pieces of sports memorabilia were awarded as door prizes, including: four box seats to a New York Yankees-New York Mets game at Yankee Stadium; a photograph autographed by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra; six baseball autographed by Clemens and six signed by Lidge; a Chipper Jones autographed bat and photograph; and other Notre Dame branded items and items outographed by the Irish baseball team.
Notre Dame opens its season on Feb. 18, versus Florida A&M in the fisrt of four games to be played by the Irish at the University of Central Florida.
Excerpts follow below from the comments of Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri, Lidge and Clemens. Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis also made brief remarks to the crowd and former Indiana governor Joe Kernan (an ND baseball alum) presented Mainieri with the state's prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash honor - while Clemens and Lidge held a special Q&A session with the Joyce Center crowd.
Comments from Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis - "I'd like to thank coach Mainieri and the baseball program for letting me be a guest with you here tonight. ... One of my great passions in life, believe it or not, was baseball. I wasn't that good, but I loved it. ... I grew up in Jersey, a diehard Yankee fan. ... When (Roger) came over to the Yankees and won a couple of World Series ... winning was all it was about after all. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, you will get to know me a little bit more and understand my passion for winning - not at all costs, but my passion for winning. I have strong competitive drive, similar to that of guys playing in professional sports. ... I just want to thank you for the warm reception and let you know that I'm here for good now and hopefully in the not-too-distant future you'll be very proud that I'm your coach." Thanks.
Comments from former Notre Dame head coach Paul Mainieri introducing Brad Lidge
"Joe Kernan, thank you so much for that tremendous honor [Sagamor of the Wabash]. What a tremendous honor and total shock. Coming from you, a great man and a great leader, a person I've always looked up to. You've given so much to this country. Thank you. ... It warms my heart to see all the former players who are here tonight. ... I'm so proud of Brad Lidge for what he has accomplished in the game of baseball and the things that he will accomplish in the future years. And I'm just as proud of the guys that are in law, studying law, doctors, outstanding salesmen, I know have former players who are coaching in college baseball and that makes me feel great also that I may have had some influence on them. ... When you look at this young man, he is now one of the best relief pitchers in the game of baseball. I think Roger will agree with me when I say that. I know he has pitched through a lot of adversity, struggled through some injuries, some inconsistencies. But he has worked so hard to become the player that he is today. And with all that he has accomplished it his career, I know the best is yet to come and it really makes me excited. ... Usually Roger goes first for six or seven innings but I think tonight we're going to have Brad go first ..."
Excerpts of Comments from Brad Lidge
"When coach Mainieri invited me out to speak tonight, I couldn't pass it up. When I look back at my career at Notre Dame ... looking at my freshman year and the second half of my junior year, I felt like I was looking at things with the different sets of eyes. As a freshman when I came in, I was timid, easily intimidated, didn't have a whole lot of confidence. I had never really attained mental toughness and physical strength. Colorado high school baseball is not the pinnacle, so I was able to get by with throwing a lot of fastballs and didn't have to be too mentally tough. And I also had not faced the rigors of Notre Dame academically ... I had to challenge myself but I was a little nervous and a little scared out there on the baseball field.
"In the second half of my junior season, I remember being on the mound and I remember feeling in control, confident and that I was becoming a better player. I had challenged myself in the weight room and become stronger physically. I became a better athlete and was mentally stronger and physically stronger. ... There was just so much difference between my freshman and junior year.
"No matter how much energy and fire you have, if you don't have the guidance to get where you want to go, you're not going to have a whole lot. And I was very lucky to have that at Notre Dame. ... We had this thing called the depth chart and when I was a freshman at Notre Dame ... sure enough, I was last. ... But coach Mainieri said, `The depth chart is only temporary. A lot of you haven't challenged yourself in the weight room yet ....' and I finally had the motivation that I needed. That was the first time I really challenged myself to become a better athlete. ...
"My junior year, we were playing out at the University of Miami and we got blown out ... I didn't even get out of the second inning. ... After the game, coach Mainieri introduced me to Jim Hendry, that's the general manager of the Chicago Cubs and that's a pretty important person to come and watch your game. I was quite shocked to be able to meet him and he told me, `Don't put too much pressure on yourself about the draft. If you throw hard, things are going to work out. All you need to do is help your team win, have fun. Because if you worry about it and have things floating around in your mind, you're not going to have success and your teammates are counting on you.' This really made me think about what I was doing out there and I finally felt that there was no reason to thing about everything else. I liked to play baseball and had fun doing it. ...
"Towards the end of my junior year, the draft was approaching and coach Mainieri came to me and said, it was pretty simple: "Brad, you have arrived." It really meant a lot to me because I had a lot of people talk about the potential I had and it never really had felt like I'd got there. ... He wanted my confidence to be as high as it could be. And that's a tribute to Paul Mainieri and how much he cares for his players.
"After I got drafted, you think about getting to the major leagues pretty quickly. The minor leagues are not really a place where you want to procrastinate. ... I had four surgeries in four years. ... Finally, the Astros called me up in 2002. ... I got stronger to adversity and got to the point where I could come back stronger. ... The Houston Astros in 2004 was a wave of excitement. When Roger Clemens pitches now, there are milestones, we are stopping games all the time and fireworks are going off - it looks like a giant circus out there. ... People ask me if I try harder to save a win for Roger Clemens and I say no, but I can tell you the fans of Houston if I had blown a save for him they would have hung me by my thumbs.
"When I reflect on my career at Notre Dame, the teammates I had are great friends. I still keep in touch with them and many are here tonight. The faculty and staff and of course the coaches, it just has been an unbelievable ride for me. It's an honor for me to come back and speak to you tonight. I just want to thank you all for coming. This is an impressive turnout. Go Irish baseball."
Paul Mainieri's Introduction of Roger Clemens
"... I made a little when Roger said he would come and I asked him, `Are you in Houston?' and he said, `Actually, I'm in Washington, D.C., and my wife and I are getting ready to have dinner with the president and his wife but I thought I'd call you first.' And I told him, `At least, you have your priorities in order.' ... The greatest pitcher in the history of baseball, The Rocket, Roger Clemens."
Excerpts of Comments from Roger Clemens
"It means a lot to me every time I've been able to step foot back on campus here. I feel like a little kid every time I come here. My closer over here doesn't really with that new contract I signed, he has to close every one of my games. ... What can I say about all the coaches that are up here and Charlie (Weis) and all the dad coaches and high school coaches. I've been playing since I was seven and I still remember all the positive things that coaches that gave me encouragement to play the game I love to play.
"A few years back, my first time on campus, it was quite a treat for me coming to see the Tennessee football game. On the plane ride up here I had a couple friends with me who are Notre Dame through and through and they were telling me about Touchdown Jesus and this and that and I said, `I'm not falling for that.' Sure enough, I walked out there and I was just frozen and it had a big impact on me. Having the chance to walk around campus and meet all the nice people.
"When I'm out there on the mound in the seventh inning and I'm tired. If I looked to the bullpen and didn't see Brad warming up, I wasn't coming out. I brought home my seventh Cy Young and this guy was a big part of it so thank you brother.
"If you have pride in what you do, you are going to try to do it to the fullest. That's what I try to stress with my teammates. Some of them are OK with being average but we're not. ... That's the approach you have to have.
"One of the biggest games of the year that I was supposed to pitch was the night of 9/11. Fast forward to the World Series in 2001 against the Diamondbacks and I feel like I've got he weight of the world on my shoulders in game three. This tells you a lot about our president and how much pride he has, before he threw out the first pitch he was down warming up in our cages because he wants to throw a strike. We had two young players who couldn't believe he was warming up to throw the first pitch. And I told them, `You know why he's down there? Because the man's got pride. He wants to throw a strike in front of the guys that he is going to try and take down in a couple months. He's got pride because he wants to throw a strike on front of the whole world. That's why he is down there getting loose, to go out there and throw a perfect strike.
"Brad Lidge. What can I say about this guy? The city of Houston loves him. He is very exciting to watch. I have some friends who are really good hitters in the National League and they told me they are sitting on his slider and they still can't hit it. And I asked Brad, `Can you show me that slider?' but I can't throw it as hard as he does."
Excerpts Question-and-Answer Segment with Clemens and Lidge
Q: "If you had one piece of advice to give youngsters who want to play baseball as a living, what would it be?
Lidge: "If you play in baseball long enough, you are eventually going to go through adversity. And how you can handle that adversity will determine the success you have in baseball. If you work as hard as you can and use adversity as a tool to get you better, you always will come out having success on the other side. You all are going to have some challenges."
Clemens: "I had three roommates that were a lot better than I was but they were happy with their nice cars and this and that ... Keep your eye on what you are supposed to be doing. There's a lot of great players that you never hear about. Continue to work hard. There was a professional scout who said I probably wouldn't have a chance in this game - he's probably unemployed."
Q: "Roger, with the Ninja Turtles that you used to wear on your shoes. Is there anything you do know for your kids."
Clemens: "That Ninja Turtles thing took off and I didn't get any endorsements from it. Some people thought I'd lost my mind at times. The kids were running around the house and they made these little shoelaces and asked me to wear Donatello and Rafael. So I put them on there. Superstitions - I'll take a page out of Yogi's book, I'm not superstitious, I think they're all bad luck.
Q: "Can you talk about Joe Torre and Don Zimmer?
Clemens: "After the game, if we were playing poorly, Joe didn't mince any words. He let us know, whether you were a first-year player or a seasoned veteran. ... Of course you had George Steinbrenner there. You play six years in New York, it's like you age in dog years. ... Like I told the Notre Dame players today out at the baseball field, Joe said, `Be on time, don't miss signs and get your butt down the first-base line. If you can't work for a manager like that, you're going to have problems in the major leagues."
Q: "What's the fastest pitch you've ever thrown?
Clemens: "Fast, we both throw fast. I've thrown it up near 100 miles-an-hour sometimes. But, little man, if you throw it 97 down the middle it's going to go a long way the other way."
Lidge: "... Really, it's all about location."
Q: "What can we do to strengthen our arms?
Clemens: "Strengthen your arms by playing long catch. That's how we strengthen our arms every spring. And we have the exercises we do, a little more advanced with the five-pound exercises. Stair work, too many hamstrings get injured. ..."
Q: "Was baseball always your favorite sport?
Clemens: "Baseball was one of my favorite sports. When I was in high school, I was a defensive end and I still miss football and I really enjoy watching it and the challenges they have. But I do love the game of baseball.
Q: "What is the favorite team you've played for?"
Clemens: "Winning a national championship at Texas was great. Playing baseball in the east was great, because there is a great passion for the game."
Q: "Who are the hitters you fear the most?
Lidge: "You don't want to fear anybody. The guts I've had the most difficulty with are Sean Casey of the Cincinnati Reds and Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies. Both are outstanding hitters and I don't know if there are better hitters than those guys at making contact."
Q: "Can we get any more autographs of you?
Clemens: "Ash Wednesday just happened, right? I'm giving up signing for the rest of the year."
Q: "What was it like when you threw your last pitch in New York?
Clemens: "I was very emotional. I needed about five or 10 minutes to gather my thoughts, believing that was my last pitch. It was a privilege and honor all the teams I played for, even in college, rich in tradition like what you have here on this campus. There's some special places in this world and this one of them and I've been lucky enough to come and talk to you tonight, see the University and watch games here. My boys love it. They love the university here. ... This has been a lot of fun and I hope to get back soon to watch another football game.