Feb. 21, 2003

The Notre Dame baseball team enjoyed its first day of outdoor workouts on Thursday and is set to embark on its 2003 season opener, today at 1:00 p.m. (MST) vs. the University of Dayton (at ASU’s Packard Stadium). Sophomore righthander Chris Niesel – who has won 22 of his last 23 decisions (dating back to his senior year of high school) – will get the start for the Irish, who are expected to start three freshmen while welcoming back sophomore infielders Matt Macri and Matt Edwards (who both missed most of the ’02 season due to injuries).

Thursday’s workouts included a six-inning controlled scrimmage, with six pitchers each logging one inning. Senior righthander Ryan Kalita – who is slated to start Sunday’s game vs. ASU – tossed a strong first inning while sophomore righthander Martin Vergara closed with a strong frame of his own (striking out three of the mandated five batters he faced). Sophomore righthander Tyler Jones and three lefthanders – freshman Tom Thornton, sophomore Scott Bickford and junior Cody Wilkins – also each threw an inning in the scrimmage.

Macri (who is expected to hit leadoff today) and Edwards led the offensive highlights in the scrimmage, with Macri smacking the first pitch he saw into the leftfield corner for a double before later blasting a home run to right-center. Edwards also left the yard, lofting an opposite-field home run over the rightfield fence and adding a strong single to right-center.

Freshman centerfielder Craig Cooper provided glimpses of his all-around talents, reaching base multiple times and showing good basestealing skills in swiping third.

The players also rotated periodically in the field, with junior Javi Sanchez and freshman Steve Andres splitting most of the time behind the plate. Freshman Matt Bransfield saw some times at both corners of the infield while utility infielder Greg Lopez was used at several positions.

Several special guests stopped by to watch the practice and visit with the Irish team. The wellwishers included former Notre Dame sports information director Roger Valdiserri and Elkhart businessman and longtime ND baseball benefactor Frank Vite. Former ND centefielder Steve Stanley – who currently is living just minutes from the ASU campus – also stopped by and is expected to be on hand for all of the Irish games this weekend (he likely will sit in for some color commentary on the radio/internet broadcasts).

Stanley is one of several former ND players who currently are preparing for professional baseball spring training (check back to und.com later for an update on the alums), with many training in various Arizona cities.

(Note: plenty of preseason information on the Irish is available at www.und.com, including a live-chat wrapup with head coach Paul Mainieri, 20 questions with Sanchez, audio interviews with assistant coaches Brian O’Connor and David Grewe – see audio/video link, requires College Sports Pas – feature stories on the team tri-captains and the freshman class, and the weekly press release in PDF form).