June 15, 2003

The Notre Dame baseball team completed its promising group of 10 letter-of-intent signees with the addition of 6-foot-1, 190-pound lefthanded pitcher Matt Whittington (Melbourne, Fla.) in the 2003 spring signing period, head coach Paul Mainieri announced today. Whittington is the son of former Notre Dame linebacker Mike Whittington (’80), one of the top defensive players on the vaunted 1977 national championship team who earlier served as co-captain alongside Mainieri on the 1974 Christopher Columbus High School football team (Mainieri was a year older and quarterbacked the ’74 team).

Whittington – who has been described by Team One Baseball as “a finesse lefty with a projectable frame and loose arm” – joins nine 2002 fall signees to form an incoming class for the 2004 season that is expected to rival Notre Dame’s 2002 freshman class that was rated No. 1 in the nation and helped the Irish reach the ’02 College World Series. The fall signees included four righthanded pitchers – 6-0, 170-pounder Jeff Manship (San Antonio, Texas), 6-3, 210 Derik Olvey (Pelham, Ala.), 6-4, 210 Jess Stewart (Manassas, Va.) and 6-5, 195 Dan Kapala (Royal Oak, Mich.) – plus one of the nation’s premier utility players in 6-4, 220-pound Chris Vasami (Mamaroneck, N.Y.), 6-4, 210 first baseman Mike Dury (Indianapolis), 6-1, 185 infielder Chris Fournier (Fairfield, Conn.), 6-1, 175 catcher Sean Gaston (Brownsburg, Ind.) and 5-9, 160 centerfielder Danny Dressman (San Jose, Calif.). Gaston and Dressman are lefthanded hitters while Dury is an accomplished hitter from both sides of the plate.

“Adding Matt to our freshman class gives us a great lefthanded pitching prospect to go along with the players we signed in the fall, when we met certain needs with power pitching arms, power bats, a tremendous two-way player, a great catcher, and an outstanding athlete who can play the outfield,” said Mainieri, whose 2004 squad must replace the void left by the 2003 graduating class that included starting centerfielder Kris Billmaier, reserve first baseman Mike Holba and five regular members of the pitching staff (J.P. Gagne, Ryan Kalita, Peter Ogilvie, Matt Laird and Brandon Viloria).

“Matt brings great athleticism and competitiveness to the mound, as one of many former high school quarterbacks who have played for us in recent years, and he has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes, with a good curveball and a mid-80s fastball. His senior-year stats exemplify the type of impact that Matt can make and we see him having the versatility to fill several roles as he is mentored by our veteran pitching staff.”

Whittington posted a 2.14 career ERA and 21-9 record as a four-year starter at Melbourne Central Catholic High School, with 170 strikeouts, 68 walks (2.5 K-to-walk ratio) and 192 hits allowed in 215.1 career innings. His career stats at MCCHS also included five shutouts, 21 complete games and 37 pickoffs.

As a senior, Whittington earned all-state and all-Central Florida honors and was named the top pitcher in Space Country County after posting a county-best 1.24 seven-inning ERA and 7-2 record, plus one save, 71 Ks, 21 walks (3.4 K-to-walk ratio), 11 pickoff moves and 44 hits allowed in 62.2 innings (he also hit .318 while playing center field and first base). He captained the 2003 team to a 16-9 record and its second consecutive district runner-up finish before being named the Most Valuable Male Athlete at MCCHS. His junior season included a 1.04 ERA, 9-2 record and a 5.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio (66/12) in 74.1 innings pitched.

Whittington – who made his official visit during the 2003 Opening Night Dinner that featured Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry as the keynote speaker – also attended the 2002 Notre Dame Baseball Camp. He was a two-sport star as a football quarterback at Melbourne Catholic, located an hour east of Orlando and south of Cocoa Beach, and graduated with a 3.9 cumulative grade-point average.

(see additional ND baseball signee notes and Whittington quotes/notes below)

Notre Dame Baseball 2002-03 Letter-of-Intent Signees
Player Pos. Ht./Wt. Bats Hometown Previous School
Danny Dressman OF 5-9/160 L San Jose, CA Archbishop Mitty HS
Mike Dury 1B/OF 6-4/210 S Indianapolis, IN Bishop Chatard HS
Chris Fournier IF 6-1/185 R Fairfield, CT Fairfield HS
Sean Gaston C 6-1/175 L Brownsburg, IN Brownsburg HS
Dan Kapala RHP 6-5/195 Royal Oak, MI Shrine Catholic HS
Jeff Manship RHP 6-0/170 San Antonio, TX Reagan HS
Derik Olvey RHP 6-3/210 Pelham, AL Pelham HS
Jess Stewart RHP 6-4/210 Manassas, VA Osbourn City HS
Chris Vasami 1B/OF/RHP 6-4/210 R Mamaroneck, NY Mamaroneck HS
*Matt Whittington LHP 6-1/190 Melbourne, FL Melbourne Central Catholic HS
*Note: Whittington signed in 2003 spring period, the other nine signed in the fall of 2002

WHAT THEY’VE SAID ABOUT THE 2002-03 NOTRE DAME BASEBALL SIGNEE CLASS (quote provided Nov. 16, 2002, from Jeff Spelman, editor TeamOneBaseball.com):

“Notre Dame again has signed one of the best classes in the nation and it’s an incredibly-balanced group, with speed, power, good arms and defense at several key areas – I’d certainly grade this class an ‘A’ … The centerpiece of the class is Jeff Manship. He could prove to be one of the top-10 players in the country and has the best curveball out there. He is very polished and could make an immediate impact, as could Derik Olvey … We have three of these signees ranked among the nation’s top hitters, with those players being Dury, Vasami and Fournier – who is a kid that can flat-out hit and is very competitive. And it’s true that Dressman will remind people of Steve Stanley at the same age. … If you add these signees to the freshman and sophomore pitchers already are at Notre Dame, you could envision them back in Omaha (at the ’04 CWS) – because you’d have weekday starters who would be weekend starters at most other top-20 programs. … Notre Dame really turned the corner with making it to Omaha (in ’02) and there is nothing they can’t offer a recruit now. What is exciting to see is that they are maintaining things on a high level and building on it – they are not a ‘flash-in-the-pan.’ They’ve done a great job of identifying kids early on who are good fits for Notre Dame.”

(Note: per NCAA regulations, schools are not allowed to release updated information – including MLB draft status – on letter-of-intent signees after the initial signing releases. Updates can be provided once those student-athletes report for the start of their freshman years. Look for an update on the ND signees at the start of the 2003 fall semester.)

SPRING SIGNEE HISTORY – The nine-year Mainieri era has seen ND sign several quality additions during the late period, including junior-to-be RHPs John Axford and Tyler Jones, who both were selected in the 2001 Major League draft … other late-period signees during the Mainieri era have included RHP Brad Lidge (currently enjoying a banner rookie season as a key setup man with the Houston Astros, including getting the win in the recent no-hitter vs. the New York Yankees), C Jeff Wagner, OF Allen Greene, LHP Tim Kalita and IF Brant Ust, plus four other current or recent members of the Irish squad: DH Ken Meyer (’02 graduate), OF Kris Billmaier (’03), rising junior C/IF Javi Sanchez and sophomore-to-be LHP Tom Thornton.

FAR & WIDE – The 10 signees hail from nine home states and are slated to join an ND baseball program that is set to include players from at least 21 states (or provinces) on its 2004 roster … those 21 home states represented by the returning players and signees include the following: Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

FLORIDA PIPELINE – Notre Dame has featured plenty of Florida talent in the Mainieri era, with Whittington set to become the 12th Floridian to play for Mainieri at ND (Illinois, with 29, is the only state that can claim more Irish players in the Mainieri era) … the ’04 ND squad is slated to include one Floridian in each class: senior-to-be C/IF Javi Sanchez (Miami/Columbus HS), rising junior and ’03 All-America RHP Chris Niesel (Plantation/Aquinas HS), sophomore-to-be OF Brennan Grogan (Tequesta/Benjamin HS) and Whittington … others of note who have hailed from Florida include career saves leader John Corbin (Hollywood/Hollywood Hills HS; ’97-’00), first team all-BIG EAST pitcher Danny Tamayo (Miami/Ransom Everglades HS, ’98-’01) and DH Ken Meyer (Fort Myers/Verot HS, ’99-’02).

SECOND-GENERATION – Mike Whittington started four games and was a top reserve LB on ND’s 1977 national championship team (he later was a full-time starter in ’79) … the vaunted ’77 defense included fellow LBs Mike Golic, Doug Becker and Steve Heimkreiter, the potent bookend DEs Ross Browner and Willie Fry, DTs Ken Dike and Mike Calhoun, CBs Luther Bradley and Ted Burgmeier and safeties Jim Browner and Joe Restic – while the offense was led by the likes of QB Joe Montana, the RB tandem of Vagas Ferguson and Jerome Heavens, and TE Ken MacAfee … Whittington is one of several ND signees or current players whose fathers were college athletes, including three fathers of fellow signees: John Dury (N.C. State baseball) and Ralph Vasami (NYU baseball) … both of Whittington’s ND hosts have fathers who were college athletes (Rudy Niesel played baseball at Spring Hill, Mike Macri football at Simpson) while rising senior second baseman Steve Sollmann’s father Rich competed in football and track at Wooster … three other juniors-to-be can be included among the group, with infielder Matt Edwards’ father playing baseball at Stetson, pitcher Grant Johnson’s father Gary playing football and basketball at Kansas and Paul Weiss (father of DH Brent Weiss) earning All-America lacrosse honors at Johns Hopkins … signee Jess Stewart’s grandfather Jack Stewart was one of top pitchers on 1945 Notre Dame baseball team.

SIGNALCALLERS – Whittington will be one of five former prep quarterbacks on the ’04 ND baseball team, with the others including juniors-to-be Matt Macri and Martin Vergara and rising sophomores Steve Andres and Matt Bransfield (Macri was the Iowa football player of the year, Vergara all-state in N.J., Bransfield honorable mention all-state in Colo., Andres all-city in Napa, Calif.) … other players from the ND era who honed their competitiveness as prep QBs have included Bobby Lisanti, Craig DeSensi, Todd Frye, Christian Parker, Brant Ust, Andrew Bushey, Brian Stavisky, Kris Billmaier, J.P. Gagne and Mike Holba … other ND players who had noteworthy prep football careers (as non-QBs) include record-setting brothers Scott and Steve Sollmann and Steve’s fellow senior-to-be Joe Thaman, plus former players such as Rich Sauget, Jeff Wagner, Ben Cooke, Danny Tamayo, Ken Meyer and Matt Strickroth.

WHITTINGTON ON HIS DECISION – “I obviously grew up a big Notre Dame fan and had been up there for football games and the 20-year reunion for the 1977 football team. I didn’t know about anywhere else and I didn’t want to. Later I found out that I might be able to play baseball there and it was where I wanted to go. I knew I could become a good lefthanded pitcher and I was not big enough for college football. … When I went to the Notre Dame baseball camp, I had the chance to meet players like Matt Macri and Joe Thaman and I saw what the competition would be like. I also got to see the indoor facility and the clay mounds and played on the field at Eck Stadium. It felt like a place I wanted to play. … I already knew coach Mainieri from the times we would visit at football games and I think Notre Dame has a great coaching staff. On my official visit, I watched Matt Laird and John Axford throw bullpens and the things that (pitching coach) Brian O’Connor said and taught are things I try to do. I know he’ll help solidify my mechanics and they always have one of best pitching staffs in the country, which played a big part in me going there. … It was great being there for the Opening Night Dinner and getting to meet Jim Hendry and see him interact with the team. …. I know that the weather will be different but I was ready for a change and wanted to go to college outside Florida. I talked to Chris Niesel about the weather and he’s obviously done great with it. … I’ve always had good control and was able to boost my velocity from 81 up to 84 at a Showcase event in Atlanta (summer ’02). I’m not a pitcher who will overpower people but I’m kind of like Barry Zito because I make my fastball seem faster by setting it up with my curve and working the corners. I’m looking forward to getting stronger and boosting my velocity to go deeper in games.”

ADDITIONAL WHITTINGTON NOTES – Allowed just two earned runs during 2003 regular season at MCCHS, in 42.2 IP (0.33 ERA) … his top ’03 outings included a no-hitter vs. Florida Air Academy (1-0), 1-hitters vs. Holy Trinity Academy and St. Edward’s, a 2-hitter vs. Cocoa Beach and a 13-K game vs. First Academy (4-2, 5 H) … his complete junior-year stats (all-county): 9-2, 1.04, 74.1 IP, 12 BB, 66 Ks, 14 pickoffs, hit .388 (HR, 25 RBI, 7 SB), tossed 1-hitter vs. Cocoa Beach … sophomore year stats: 3.07, 5-4, 59 IP, 22 BB, 24 Ks, 59 H, 11 pickoffs … his sophomore-year highlights included posting two strikeouts vs. Prince Fielder – the nation’s top-ranked batter (with a .524 avg.) and son of former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder – while tossing complete games vs. the state’s #4-ranked team Bishop Moore (3-1, 5 H) and Jacksonville Sandalwood (5-1, 5 H) … pitched sparingly as freshman (6.24, 0-1, 21.1 IP, 13 BB, 9 Ks, 23 H) … helped team post 54-28 record from ’01-’03 … started for South team in 2003 county all-star game … has played the past two summers in local Stan Musial wooden-bat league (a no-age-limit league featuring several former college and pro players) … played with the Satellite Beach team in the summer of 2002 (when he had 9 Ks in a 2-hitter) and currently with the Palm Bay Americans (his first outing included 5 IP, 6 Ks and 1 H in a winning effort) … received Chamber of Commerce Scholar-Athlete Award and a candidate for Wendy’s High School Heisman Award … member of National Honor Society and math honor society …played soccer for most of his youth-sports days, also picking up baseball as a 10-year-old and playing football the past five years … played one JV football season and three years on varsity, the final two as starting QB … scored twice while rushing and passing for 100-plus yards in 2002 homecoming game … born Aug. 26, 1985, in Miami … son of Pam and Mike Whittington … full name is Matthew Steven Whittington … his intended areas of study include political science and Russian, with his post-grad aspirations (in addition to pro ball) including a possible career in the CIA.