Chat With Baseball Coach Paul Mainieri
Welcome to the UND.com chat room. This week’s special guest is baseball coach Paul Mainieri. He is dropping by on Thursday, February 20 at 6 p.m. to talk about this year’s squad, the start of the 2003 season and anything else on Irish fans’ minds.
Mainieri – who in 2002 became the nation’s only coach to repeat as one of eight regional coaches of the year, as selected by the American Baseball Coaches Association – has helped continue the program’s standard of excellence during his first eight seasons, with: five conference titles, five trips to the NCAAs, 354 victories, 30 players who have been drafted or signed free-agent contracts, and 12 players selected in the first 10 rounds of the Major League Draft (plus seven All-America and six Academic All-America selections). Mainieri’s Irish squads also have extended the program’s string of consecutive seasons with 40-plus wins to 14 – the fourth-longest active streak in all of Division I baseball.
The Notre Dame baseball team’s 2003 schedule includes a pair of early-season games at perennial power Arizona State, participation in a talented four-team field at Minnesota’s Hormel Classic (to be played at the Metrodome), a spring break trip to Jacksonville, Fla., and a return to Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium (site of the College World Series) for a special game versus Creighton – plus the annual BIG EAST Conference and Midwest regional battles.
Notre Dame will open its 56-game regular season in Arizona, with neutral-site games at Arizona State versus Dayton (Feb. 21) and Newman (Feb. 22) before facing the Sun Devils in a pair of games (Feb. 22-23).
Feel free to leave a question for Coach Mainieri now or check back Thursday evening.
|Coach Mainieri: Fortumately we have another solid No. 1 starter in Chris Niesel. It was great when he and Johnson have us two aces. The reality is that we now have to deal with Johnson being out so obviously a lot of other guys are going to have to pick up the slack. We have the arms that are capable in Axford, Kalita, Ogilvie and many others. These early games provide quite a challenge but you are right that they will toughen our team for the long grind. Thanks for your support.|
|Bill Wilder (Houston): Coach, first of all congratulations on a great run at ND. You’ve done a tremendous job with the program. Now for the question: Where will our offense come from this year?|
|Coach Mainieri: Thanks Bill for your nice comment. Fortunately we have had a lot of great kids play in our program and we have another great group. Replacing all the great players we lost will be tough but I’m excited about many new ones. Macri and Edwards are two players that many of our fans did not get to see last season but they will provide a lot of offense. Some of the rookies such as Cooper, Grogan, Rizzo and Andres will swing the bats. We will need Sanchez, Thaman and Billmaier to raise their game and we will need the usual great year out of Sollmann. Have faith!|
|Marc – Scottsdale, AZ: Congrats on last years CWS! We’re looking forward to seeing the team compete at ASU this week. Does ASU have an advantage having played 20 games already? How are they allowed to play so many games before anyone else? Beat the Sun Devils!|
|Coach Mainieri: Marc, thanks for your support and for rooting on the Irish this weekend. Something tells me you might be in the minority in that stadium. We obviously have a great challenge facing the No. 4 team in the country but our kids are excited. Obviously, we wish we had some games under our belt but we’re not conceding anything. I can assure you that we will compete very hard against all the opponents this weekend.|
|Ashly (Zionsville): Coach M…how long do you think it will take for the new rotation of guys to get comfortable in their (new) positions and gel as an effective, winning team? Thanks for your time, and the best to you all this season!!|
|Coach Mainieri: Ashly, I hope it does not take long. We feel we will win every time we step on the field. However, I think last year proved that it’s better to be good in April than in February. I don’t think it will take long for us to put it all together if we can stay relatively healthy. Our assistant coaches and veteran players have done a great job in helping the youngsters and those undergoing position changes get acclimated to college ball and the new challenges in 2003. We all are very excited to get it going!|
|Paul Smith: I am from Middleboro, MA, the hometown of Tall Tom Thorton. I was wondering what the freshman’s role on the team will be this year, and also where you see him in four years…|
|Coach Mainieri: Well Paul, I can tell you that everyone on our team loves Tall Tom. He keeps everyone loose and having fun. He will start the season being used out of the bullpen but perhaps could be a midweek starter when we start playing at home in April. I think that he has a lot of potential and has looked very good through our fall and winter practices. I think he will do all New Englanders proud.|
|greg brabenec olmsted falls, ohio: how do you recruit your players?|
|Coach Mainieri: First of all, I have a great staff of assistant coaches that work very hard at identifying young men that will fit well at Notre Dame. Hopefully, we have proven to quality players around the country that they don’t have to concede individual development or a chance at playing in the College World Series by coming to Notre Dame. Besides that, the University sells itself.|
|Jeff – Indianapolis: Coach, What are the top priorities for your team this season? What are the development goals for your early season games? How do you coach and encourage 12 to 15 year old players to aspire to play at the Division 1 level? Go Irish!!|
|Coach Mainieri: First of all, our primary goal is to go on the field and represent Notre Dame in the best possible way every day. If we have recruited good enough players then we will be fighting for the NCAA Tournament and the World Series at the end. This is our goal every year. With regard to coaching youngsters, be as positive and upbeat as you can with them so that they enjoy the game and enjoy going to the field each day. If they have the ability, they will be discovered.|
|John (Nashville, TN): For the Irish to be taken seriously and to be classified in the same breath with the SEC and ACC powers, you team is going to have to follow up last year’s run. How do you prevent it from people classifying last year’s season as a fluke?|
|Coach Mainieri: John, I grew up in Miami, Florida, for the first 30 years of my life. I know that people in the warm-weather climates are skeptical about any northern school that has success in college baseball. However, I feel as though it takes years of hard work to become an overnight success. We have had 14 straight years of winning 40-plus games, so I don’t think that you can call last year a fluke. Beating a good South Alabama team in the regional, beating Florida State twice on their field and beating Rice at the CWS were not a result of lucky bounces or flukes. Everything we have achieve was the result of some outstanding kids playing the game it was meant to be played. We also had some amazing players in previous years who laid the foundation for that memorable 2003 season. They all shared in the great feelings that the season generated. Certainly, we are challenged to maintain the level of play that we have seen over the last several years.|
|Kevin (ND): Is my buddy Martin Vergara gonna get some weekend starts this year with the injury to Grant?|
|Coach Mainieri: Martin is making great strides working with our great pitching coach Brian O’Connor. He threw this afternoon in a controlled intrasquad scrimmage here in Tempe and threw really well. He will get a chance sometime this weekend and I expect that he will pitch well.|
|Sandy Schafer, Wheeling, WV: Hello Coach, and congratulations again for making it to Omaha!! Do you think the experience of participating in the CWS will help your team this year to be able to set the goal of returning? Best of luck this season!|
|Coach Mainieri: Hi Sandy, hope all is well in one of my favorite states (where I was born). I do believe that last year’s experiences will help this year’s team build confidence to continue to keep us in the elite of college baseball.|
|Mark Simendinger ’80 (Edgewood, KY): Coach First off, congratulations on all of your success at ND thus far. I know I speak for many alums when I say how proud we are of you and the job you have done. As for the club, talk about Matt Macri. Sounds like quite a player.|
|Coach Mainieri: Mark, great to hear from you. Hope the horses are doing well. Macri is almost 100% with his throwing arm but we are going to be a little bit conservative with him early in the year to make sure he does not have any setbacks. For example, he will start three of the four games at shortstop and DH the other game this weekend. He really is looking good, though. Today, in the intrasquad game he hit a home run and a double. If we are going to have another great year, it will be in large part due to Matt leading the way.|
|Mike Glynn-Pittsburgh: Has the Big East gained more respect around the country as a solid baseball conference?|
|Coach Mainieri: Mike, I hope so. Last year when we were in the CWS, we felt as though we were reprenting not only the BIG EAST Conference but all the northern baseball programs. I told everyone out there that here we were in the CWS and yet we didn’t even qualify for our conference tournament until the last weekend of the regular season. That should illustrate how tough the BIG EAST is. The BIG EAST Conference continues to improve every year. The school right in your hometown, the Pittsburgh Panthers under Joe Jordano, have become a real force in the league and a program that is gaining more respect each year. You look at programs like Boston College, Virginia Tech, St. John’s, Rutgers and Seton Hall and you have some great teams that will battle you to the end. You also will notice that the BIG EAST is comparble with many of the so-called power conferences in producing top professional prospects. Many of the BIG EAST players that you watch at Eck Stadium will be in the big leagues some day.|
|Denver: Coach: You have a career, with many storied events. One such tale makes the rounds here in Denver. It involved you in a Doger Uni, Tommy Lasorta, a bench clearing, and a photo of you leading the way throwing a nasty right upper cut. Any truth?|
|Coach Mainieri: Now you know that I never left the dugout because had I gone on the field, my good friend Angel Hernandez would have something to say about it.|
|Damien(phoenix): Coach, Along with your big opening weekend at ASU, will there be any added emotion that comes with playing against Murphy and Ronney. Also, do you keep in contact with those guys, as well as Craig Counsell?|
|Coach Mainieri: Pat has a real powerhouse this year. I believe they already are 18-1 and are fourth in the country. We last saw Craig Counsell in South Bend for the basketball game vs. Marquette. He is such a great ambassador of Notre Dame and its baseball program. What he has done with his career has made all Domers proud. He plays the game the way it was invented to be played.|
|Tom (Washington): Coach: Was there a point in last year’s season where you made a major change in playing philosophy, and if so has that been carried over to this year?|
|Coach Mainieri: Our players made a decision to put their individual desires (i.e. pro ball) on the shelf and do whatever it took to help Notre Dame win. If it meant sacrificing themselves by bunting or hitting to the opposite field, everyone committed to doing the right thing. When we started executing and doing the little things, we went on our hot streak by winnnig 40 of our next 46. As far as this year, certainly you can look for the same type of selfless approach from the 2003 team.|
|Tom (Philadelphia): Coach–Sounds like Thorton gives you one option from the left side this year. What about Scott Bickford and Cody Wilkins? Can they contribute? And what can you tell us about the freshman walkon, Matt Arminio? Goff luck this year!|
|Coach Mainieri: I wish that we were in a position to use more lefthanders however the priority will always be to pitch the guys that deserve to pitch because they give us the best chance to win, regardless of which hand they throw with.|
|Virgil (South Bend): How was your first day of practice outside?|
|Coach Mainieri: Well Virgil, first of all it was great to be on a baseball field that didn’t have snow covering it. We had an excellent day of practice for three hours. First we played a six-inning scrimmage an followed that up with a good round of batting practice. I was really surprised how good we looked for the first day outside. Normally, we would drop a lot of popups and swing and miss at a lot of pitches but I didn’t see much of that at all. The scrimmage game went well. Ryan Kalita – who will start Sunday vs. ASU – and Martin each threw a good inning and Macri and Edwards each hit a home run and a lot of guys really looked good at the plate. We also made some good plays on defense. I really think that we are ready for tomorrow to get the 2003 season going and believe that we will play very well against Dayton. Chris Niesel gets the ball and I believe that he will give us a great chance to win if he throws the way he has been looking indoors for the last month. Thank you all for the great questions and for your interest and support of the Fighting Irish baseball program. We will do our best to make you proud again in 2003.|