Feb. 28, 2015
By Rich Hidy, ’16
Nick McCarty hasn’t followed the everyday path of the typical college baseball student-athlete. And with the way he has pitched in the early outings of the 2015 season for the Irish, the junior starter has certainly carved out a distinct role as the linchpin of the rotation.
What distinguishes McCarty is not only his on field triumphs, which include two quality starts and two wins to help spark Notre Dame’s 8-1 start, but also his unique interests in foreign policy and international politics.
McCarty entered the season as a versatile utility pitcher who spent time in the bullpen, closing and starting games, but has raised his profile to become a reliable starting pitcher so far in 2015. The Indianapolis native made a team-high 29 appearances in 62 innings during his freshman campaign, mostly from the bullpen.
“The bullpen is a great experience for young pitchers because you come in and get thrust into some incredibly bad situations and figure it out on the fly,” McCarty says. “It’s an incredibly valuable thing to feel out how to get out of those jams. I think it’s helped me out a lot, having had that experience as a reliever and having success now.”
He made 15 appearances last year and started nine times, pitching six or more innings in five of those starts and finishing second on the team in quality starts with five. However, limiting the damage was a struggle for McCarty, as his earned run average (ERA) never dipped below the 4.47 mark in his first two seasons.
“I think the difference between Nick now and as a younger guy is that he has really worked on his mental toolbox,” pitching coach Chuck Ristano says. “Even if things don’t go the way he wants them to early, he has the confidence in his routine and preparation to bounce back and turn a bad inning into something more stable. There’s just an element of stability that he brings right now that I have no reason to believe won’t continue.”
McCarty’s determination to tweak his mental approach on the mound spurred drastic improvements in his 14.2 innings this season, allowing just one earned run with wins in each start.
“Nick is really serious about everything in his life,” Ristano says. “He’s not content with just being average. He saw this as an opportunity to take his job to the next level.”
Quality starts are the mark of a standout pitching performance, and McCarty has hit the bulls-eye so far this year. The psychological improvements have translated into confidence and consistency in his pitching efforts.
“We’ve worked on visualizing success. It’s made a huge difference for us,” McCarty says. “It’s helped us stay in the moment for those stressful situations where you might not know what to do, but you can control your breathing and then your thoughts and then your body.”
In addition to his baseball pursuits, McCarty has also fostered his passion for history and particularly Russian foreign relations. He maintains the ultimate goal of becoming a diplomat after passing the foreign service test, which he calls “the SAT on steroids.”
As a member of the College of Arts and Letters, McCarty is currently in his fourth semester of Russian, is writing his thesis on Russian history and must read primary texts of Russian classical literature.
The history and economics double major was a member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll last season. The roots of McCarty’s Eastern European interests stem from his appreciation of his native country.
“I’d like to be able to give back to this great country that I live in by making the world a better place and a safer place,” McCarty says.
Fifteen months from graduation, McCarty is taking the necessary steps to pursue these interests by learning Russian and establishing grants for studying in St. Petersburg next summer. He ultimately hopes to conduct research in Russia upon graduation.
“I’ve always been kind of a history nerd. I grew up picking up any history book I could get my hands on,” McCarty says. “When I came to school, I wanted to do something both practical and what I loved.
“History and econ have been great fits for that. I’m very interested in Eastern Europe and Russia. That’s been what’s held my attention. I think it’s an incredibly fascinating place. It’s fixed at the crossroads between the West and the East.”
McCarty’s drive to follow these international inklings has piqued the attention of the team. The clubhouse is a tight-knit group that shares a genuine affinity for the interests of its members. Although McCarty’s rare Russian studies have been a source of comedic attention, there is also a level of deep respect for his rare intellectual passions.
“We make a lot of jokes. I wonder sometimes whether he was rooting for Rocky in Rocky IV or Drago,” Ristano says. “He’s a really good example of what I think people envision of what a Notre Dame kid should be. Somebody who’s a high achiever and who works to be great on the field and who has aspirations beyond where his baseball career is going to take him.”
Before focusing on his adventurous plans to travel across the globe, McCarty’s attention first is fixated upon turning the fortunes of a team that finished under .500 in its inaugural 2014 ACC season into a consistent winner. Notre Dame needs a steady influence to balance its rotation, and McCarty’s film study and dedication to tweaks in his approach have been contagious to Notre Dame’s early season success.
“Nick is somebody that, before anything is said, commands a really high level of respect because of how he handles his business,” Ristano says. “Before any mouth is open, before anybody is challenged, the first thing everybody looks at is how you go about your business. I think Nick is a guy you want to look at as an example.”
Growing up, McCarty modeled his pitching after Greg Maddux, who excelled through crafty and precise location even though he lacked a huge frame. One of McCarty’s favorite quotes of Maddux is, `I try to make my strikes look like balls and my balls look like strikes,’ which is an objective of McCarty along with making the batter swing to get himself out.
The mission and framework of McCarty’s plan each time he takes the ball for the Irish has become clearer. At the end of the day, baseball can be deemed a thinking man’s game. McCarty’s intellectual approach to the mound and his education have taken him deep into the seemingly uncorrelated journeys of cultural knowledge and the elusive task to achieve consistent pitching results.
“I think for any successful pitcher, knowing who you are is critical to being successful,” Ristano says. “I think Nick is a really good thinker out there. He has a plan and he executes it.”
Thus far, in multiple ways, McCarty’s role at Notre Dame is piecing together according to plan as a seamless fit.