April 24, 2015
Shortly after University of Notre Dame baseball player Robert Youngdahl stepped on home plate at Victory Field in Indianapolis, he and Fighting Irish teammate Lane Richards took off their bright gold helmets and tapped them in a brief celebration of Youngdahl’s home run.
College baseball fans had even more reason to celebrate Tuesday night, given what Notre Dame and Indiana accomplished on a crisp April night.
Meeting on the baseball field for the first time since 1998, Indiana and Notre Dame drew a crowd of nearly 8,800 fans.
Indiana rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to score a 6-5 victory. Notre Dame leads the all-time series, 67-32-1.
The numbers that put the shining moment truly into focus were the 8,728 fans who passed through the turnstiles at Victory Field.
“When was the last time a college baseball game was witnessed by 8,800 in this state?” Notre Dame baseball head coach Mik Aoki asked. “Those are more numbers associated with LSU or South Caroina. It’s not associated with schools north of the Mason-Dixon line.
“I think that’s pretty neat, and pretty exciting,” Aoki continued about the in-state showdown at Victory Field. “It’s a beautiful venue in a beautiful location, to have the city skyline as your backdrop. I thought it was great. We’re incredibly appreciative of the (Indianapolis) Indians to open that field up. Outside of the score, I thought it was a great night.”
Aoki said the Notre Dame-Indiana baseball game lighting up the Capital City night was a tremendous showcase for college baseball.
“I think you saw a little bit of what, to me, makes college baseball really exciting, and that is, we’re not as infallible as the Major Leaguers or even the Triple-A guys,” Aoki said. “We’re fallible, and that leads to a lot of unpredictable finishes and a lot of excitement. You just never know what you’re going to see.
“How many times in the big leagues do you see a guy back-picked and then manage to steal third base on the thing? You just don’t see stuff like that all that often. It’s not that you don’t, it’s just that you don’t see it all that often.”
College baseball’s amateur purity and unpredictability are some of the reasons fans fall in love with the sport. They have helped grow the sport in Omaha, Nebraska where legendary moments are forged in the College World Series.
Aoki thinks the game between the Irish and Hoosiers can serve as a beacon to attract more fans. He not only wants to continue to play Indiana in Indianapolis — even though a three-hour trip one-way is a tough mid-week challenge — but Aoki would love to see the state’s other Division I schools involved in a baseball showcase in Indianapolis. He said he was grateful to the Indianapolis Indians for working with Notre Dame and Indiana to make Tuesday’s game a reality and hopes Victory Field can see even more special moments in college baseball.
“It would be great if you could get Notre Dame and Evansville and Valpo and Indiana State and Indiana and Purdue … to do some sort of a Hoosier Classic type thing,” Aoki said. “I don’t know if it’s plausible in this day and age, but it would be neat to do something like that.”
An influx of key changes has helped college baseball in Indiana swing for the fences in recent years. Revenue — some generated from the Big Ten Network — has helped Indiana and Purdue build new facilities. Notre Dame’s admission to one of the nation’s elite baseball conferences, the Atlantic Coast Conference, has generated electricity in the state’s baseball circles.
“I think it’s a pretty good time to be a high school kid staying home and playing in Indiana,” Aoki said.
Phil Mosey, a senior infielder for Notre Dame, said playing games in talent-rich Indianapolis can be beneficial to the Fighting Irish program. Mosey played in two state championship games at Victory Field when he was with the Indianapolis Cathedral High School program.
“I think it’s really important for Notre Dame baseball to have a presence in Indianapolis,” Mosey said. “We’ve been able to get really good recruits from Cathedral, Carmel, Brebeuf.
“The first step for Notre Dame baseball is to dominate the recruiting in its backyard, and there’s really good talent in Indianapolis, central Indiana, southern Indiana. We’re always excited to get the big recruits from Florida and California, but there’s great baseball talent in Indiana, and it’s good for Notre Dame to be here and have a presence.”
Kyle Fiala, a sophomore infielder from Carmel, Indiana said playing in Triple-A parks like Victory Field is attractive to current and future players.
“I think playing games in venues like this really helps with recruiting,” Fiala said. “It means a lot to play in such a nice stadium like Victory Field. High school kids are going to look at this and say, ‘I could play on a stage like this.’ This game in this stadium is definitely an asset for both Notre Dame and Indiana.”
Growing up in Indianapolis, Mosey saw current Major League Baseball stars like Andrew McCutcheon play at Victory Field when they were honing their skills in the minors. He agreed with Fiala that playing on the Victory Field diamond is meaningful.
“To be on a stage like this, a Triple-A field in front of several thousand people, it’s huge for Notre Dame and Indiana recruiting-wise,” Mosey said. “It’s also big for the community. A lot of high school and middle school kids will come out, and the communities of the current players from around here will come out.
Fiala hopes to have more trips to Indianapolis in his Irish baseball career.
“I definitely want to see this series continue here,” Fiala said. “IU is a good baseball school, and the same with us. It’s a good match-up, and hopefully the series will continue for years to come.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent