Jan. 16, 2007
The Notre Dame baseball program’s sixth annual Opening Night Dinner will be held in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse on Monday, Feb. 12 – with 2006 Major League Baseball manager of the year Jim Leyland and former Notre Dame standout Craig Counsell (a two-time World Series champion) to serve as the keynote speakers at the popular event.
As in recent years, fans are encouraged to purchase tickets early to ensure their spot at the special night, which provides attendees the opportunity to visit with members of Notre Dame’s nationally-ranked baseball team. The $40 admission price ($25 for students, youth and seniors) includes a Notre Dame baseball 2007 season ticket (a $50 value, covering 27 regular-season game), a 2007 media guide ($15 value), autographed 8×10 photographs of each speaker, and several other advance promotional items. A special “fan pack” price of $100 also is available, providing admission and the other dinner benefits for two adults and two youth. A PDF order form is linked above.
Former Notre Dame standout Craig Counsell – a two-time World Series champion and MVP of the 2001 NLCS (pictured) – will be back on campus for the Opening Night Dinner on Feb. 12.
The “ballpark-style” dinner will begin at 7:00 p.m., in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. The night’s festivities include the opportunity to win a variety of baseball and sports-related door prizes and introduction of the Notre Dame team members, who will be seated at tables with the rest of the attendees and will be available for autographs prior to the dinner, from 5:45-6:45. The ballpark atmosphere also will include big-screen video highlights and game tapes from previous Notre Dame seasons, plus a musical selection of traditional and contemporary baseball songs. The night again will conclude with a special question-and-answer session that will allow attendees to interact with Leyland and Counsell.
Leyland is a self-proclaimed Notre Dame fan and a longtime friend of the university’s former sports information director, Roger Valdiserri. His nephew Chris Leyland is a 1999 Notre Dame graduate while Leyland’s brother, Father Tom Leyland, is a Catholic priest who performed the wedding service for Jim and Katie Leyland. The visit to Notre Dame will be the second for Leyland during the current academic year, as he was a special guest in the pressbox during the Notre Dame-Army football game on Nov. 18.
The keynote speakers have a connection going back to the 1997 Major League season, when Leyland was the manager and Counsell one of the heroes for an upstart Florida Marlins team that won the World Series title. Leyland’s 33 total years in professional baseball have included 15 previous seasons as a big-league manager, amassing nearly 1,200 career wins during stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and now the Detroit Tigers. He holds the rare distinction of guiding wild-card teams from both leagues – the 1997 Marlins and 2006 Tigers – to the World Series and he was named the National League’s manager of the year for the 1990 and ’92 seasons, during which time the Pirates won three straight National League East Division titles (he also was a NL manager-of-the-year honoree in ’88).
Jim Leyland – shown being carried off the field after winning the 2006 ALCS – had a similar celebration nearly 10 years earlier, after watching Craig Counsell score the winning run for the Florida Marlins in the ’97 World Series.
Recognized by Baseball America as the 2006 Major League Baseball manager of the year (in addition to receiving similar honors as the American League’s top skipper), the 62-year-old Leyland has spent more than two-thirds of his life in pro baseball – including seven years as a minor-league player and 11 seasons coaching in the minors. He and Schrage both have a coaching connection to city of Evansville, Ind., as Leyland was manager of the Evansville Triplets (a Tigers triple-A team) from 1979-81 while the current Notre Dame head coach spent the previous four seasons (2003-06) directing the University of Evansville team.
Counsell – whose father John was a player and assistant coach with the Irish during the 1960s and early ’70s – was among the top players who led the Notre Dame baseball program to national prominence in the early 1990s, with his four-year career including a .306 batting average, 204 runs scored, 166 RBI, 50 doubles and twice as many bases on balls (166, still most in the ND record book) as strikeouts (82). As a senior, the versatile infielder was named MVP of a 1992 Irish squad that included 14 eventual professional draft picks, with his impressive final season including a .339 batting average, 63 RBI (nearly doubling his previous career-best), twice as many home runs (12) as he had hit during the previous three seasons combined (6), 45 walks and 13 stolen bases. Counsell was named to the 1992 NCAA all-Atlantic Regional team, after captaining the Irish to within a game of the College World Series (the current Super Regional format did not take effect until ’99).
The Colorado Rockies selected Counsell in the 11th round of the 1992 MLB draft and he worked his way through the Rockies organization, playing three games with the big-league club in 1995 before receiving another callup midway through the ’97 season. A fortuitous trade quickly sent him to Florida and he batted .299 while playing in 51 regular-season games with the 1997 Marlins. Counsell then hit .293 in 15 postseason games for the World Series champs, with his sacrifice fly forcing extra innings in Game-7 of the World Series before he scored the game-winning run in the 11th to defeat the Cleveland Indians. He reprised that hero status four years later as a member of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, after earning MVP honors for the National League Championship Series (when he hit 8-for-21 with 4 RBI and 5 runs scored) and then helping defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Craig Counsell’s impressive career at Notre Dame included tremendous plate discipline and major strides througout his four seasons.
Counsell is embarking on his 12th Major League season, in what will be his second stint with his hometown Milwaukee Brewers. He also played briefly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, in addition to longer playing careers with both the Marlins and Diamondbacks (plus the 2004 season in Milwaukee).
The baseball program’s first Opening Night Dinner, featuring Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, attracted nearly 1,000 attendees prior to the 2002 season before similar numbers braved a snowstorm to attend the 2003 event that included Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry as the lead speaker. Attendance then swelled to more than 1,300 in 2004, when bestselling author and lifelong baseball fan John Grisham served as the marquee name. One year later, an overflow crowd of nearly 1,800 area baseball fans were on hand for the 2005 event, as two members of the Houston Astros – seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and closer Brad Lidge (a former standout with the Irish) – served as the keynote speakers. The 2006 event again was a sellout, with attendance in the range of 1,800 to spend a night with Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis and former Irish pitching ace Aaron Heilman (now a top pitcher for the New York Mets).
It is recommended that ticket orders for the 2007 event be placed by Jan. 26 to ensure the attendee a media guide and eligibility for the prize drawings. For dinner ticket information, please contact the Notre Dame ticket office at (574) 631-7356. Online order may be placed via the “Tickets” link on und.com, with the direct link listed below (also linked at top of this release):
Tickets also can be ordered in person at the Joyce Center second-floor ticket window (starting Jan. 16) while phone orders (574-631-7356) can be done with VISA, MasterCard or American Express. Checks should be made payable to the University of Notre Dame and mailed to the Notre Dame Ticket Office, 113 Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Ticket office hours are Mon.-Fri., 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. EST.
For additional information (excluding ticket orders) on the Opening Night Dinner, contact Nicole Jones in the Notre Dame sports promotions office (574-631-3264).
Jim Leyland’s 40-plus years in pro baseball include playing six seasons in the Tigers organization.
JIM LEYLAND BIO. CAPSULE – His 15 previous seasons as a Major League manager include 11 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-96), two with the Florida Marlins (1997-98), the 1999 Colorado Rockies season and the big turnaround with the 2006 Detroit Tigers … has totaled 1,164 career regular-season wins while managing three division winners (1990-92 Pirates) and two teams (’97 Marlins, ’06 Tigers) that reached the World Series as wild-card entries … named the Major League manager of the year (Baseball America) after 2006 season that saw Tigers reach the postseason for the first time in nearly 20 years (he also was the consensus American League manager of the year for ’06) … served as an advance scout for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2000-05, scouting National League clubs from Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and American League teams from Jacobs Field in Baltimore … his 1997 Marlins teams beat Atlanta in the NL playoffs and Cleveland in the World Series … named National League manager of the year in 1988, ’90 and ’92 … served as Tony LaRussa’s third-base coach for four seasons (1982-85) with the Chicago White Sox … his minor-league coaching career included managing the Appalachian League’s Bristol Tigers (1971), the Midwest League’s Clinton Pilots (’72-’73, ’75), the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels (’74), the Florida State League’s Lakeland Tigers (’76-’78) and the American Association’s Evansville Triplets (’79-’81) … two of his Lakeland teams (’76, ’77) and the 1979 Evansville squad all won league titles … two-time FSL coach of the year (’77, ’78), also earning that honor from the American Association in ’79 … spent six seasons as minor league catcher in the Tigers organization (1964-69) before serving as a coach at Montgomery in 1970 (he appeared in two games as a player with Montgomery in 1970) … presented the 1990 Dapper Dan Man of the Year Award, an annual honor given to a Pittsburgh sports figure for outstanding achievement on a national level … lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Perrysburg (Ohio) High School, where the school’s baseball field is named in his honor … he and wife Katie have a 15-year-old son Patrick and a 13-year-old daughter Kellie (the family resides in Pittsburgh during the offseason) … his brother, Tom, is a Catholic priest and performed the Leyland’s wedding ceremony in 1987.
Craig Counsell’s distinctive stance has been a part of Major League baseball for the past decade.
CRAIG COUNSELL BIO. CAPSULE – Ended his Notre Dame career in 1992 with team records for games played (236) and started (223, not both 5th), also finishing his career with a still-standing record total of 166 career walks while departing 2nd in the ND record book for doubles (50, now 10th), runs scored (204, now 6th) and at-bats (795, now 7th), 3rd in RBI (166, now 10th) … also currently ranks 12th in ND history with 37 career stolen bases, 9th in career SB pct. (.740, 37-of-50), 4th in total sacrifices (38), 6th in sac. bunts (26) and 7th in fielding assists (493, ended career 3rd) … played middle infield and third base during his career, earning 2nd team all-Midwestern Conference honors as a sophomore (at second) before being the MCC 1st-team shortstop in ’91 and ’92 … noted for his plate discipline and major four-year improvement during his Irish career … his junior season included batting .317 while posting what was the 4th-best season on-base pct. (.498) at that time in the ND record book (now 12th) … nearly drew 50 bases on balls during that 1991 season (49, at the time 2nd-most in ND history and now 5th) while compiling an impressive +33 season plate-discipline ratio (49 BB + 2 hit-by-pitch – just 18 strikeouts) that currently ranks 5th in the ND record book … his strong final season in 1992 (.339 batting, 63 RBI, 12 HR) included 22 doubles, which at the time trailed only the NCAA-record total posted by Dan Peltier (32) in ’89 among all-time ND players (now 6th) … joined Pat Pesavento as second ND player to total 45-plus walks in multiple seasons (45 in ’92, 9th in ND history) … mid-1990s player Ryan Topham is the only other Irish player with 45-plus BBs in multiple seasons … graduated from Notre Dame in 1992 with a degree in accounting … his Major League career stats include 1,053 games played, a .260 batting avg., 489 runs scored, 896 hits, 31 home runs, 28 triples, 160 doubles, 419 walks and 90 stolen bases … a steady big-league fielding, with just 61 total career errors and impressive career fielding percentages at three different positions: .990 at second, .980 at short and .876 at second … 11th-round pick of the Colorado Rockies in 1992, making brief appearances with the Rockies in 1995 and ’97 seasons … traded on July 27, 1997, to the Florida Marlins (for Mark Hutton) … became 1997 World Series game-7 hero, as his 9th-inning sacrifice fly plated Moises Alou to force extra innings before he scored winning run in the 11th (on an Edgar Renteria single up the middle) … fifth former ND baseball player to be a member of a World Series-winning team … returned to the Marlins in 1998 and was named by The Sporting News to its National League East all-star team … split time in 100 with the Marlins and L.A. Dodgers … his first stint with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2000-03) included playing key role on 2001 World Series team that was fronted by ace pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling … started 113 games for that ’01 squad, with his valuable versatility featuring 46 starts at shortstop, 45 at second base and 22 at third … had pair of double-digit hit streaks in ’01 season … his 3-run blast broke 2-2 tie in NL Divisional Series win over St. Louis (5-3) … went on the be named MVP of the NLCS versus the Atlanta Braves (8-for-21, 4 RBI, 5 R in 5 GP) … homered off Mike Mussina in game-1 of 2001 World Series, vs. the New York Yankees … played for his home-state team, the Milwaukee Brewers, in 2004 … his .983 fielding pct. in 2004 ranked 5th-best among NL shortstops … returned to Diamondbacks for past two seasons (2005-06) … his ’05 season included ranking 8th in the NL with 26 stolen bases and compiling the 2nd-best fielding pct. (.990) among NL second basemen … tied a Diamondbacks record with a 3-double game vs. Detroit, in 2005 … has returned to Milwaukee for the 2007 season … joins his father John (’64) as the only father-son combination ever to captain the same team sport at Notre Dame … John Counsell played in the Minnesota Twins organization from 1964-68 and later was an assistant coach with the Notre Dame baseball program from 1969-72 (Craig was born in South Bend) before later returning to his home state of Wisconsin (John Counsell was the Brewers director of speakers bureau from 1979-85 and director of community relations from ’86-’87), where Craig was a standout baseball player at Whitefish Bay High School (Whitefish Bay now is his current hometown) … Craig Counsell and his wife Michelle are the parents of two sons (Brady and Jack) and daughter Finley.