May 30, 2006
Several members of the media were on hand Monday as the Notre Dame baseball team gathered for the annual NCAA selection show. It provided a chance for Irish head coach Paul Mainieri to visit with the media on a number of topics while junior pitchers Jeff Manship and Jeff Samardzija took a few moments to discuss next week’s Major League draft before shifting their full focus to the upcoming NCAA regional in Kentucky. Senior position player standouts Craig Cooper and Greg Lopez also took a few questions from the media and some of their comments are included as well:
Notre Dame Baseball Quote Sheet – May 29, 2006 (NCAA selection day and pre-draft comments from coach Mainieri and four of the Irish players)
Paul Mainieri was all smiles while watching his team win the program’s fifth straight BIG EAST Tournament title (photo by Pete LaFleur).
NOTRE DAME HEAD COACH Paul Mainieri
General thoughts on the NCAA selections:
“You’re in the top-30 in pitching, hitting and defense, every phase of the game. First of all, to not get a host bid I was disappointed to be honest with you. The goal at the beginning if the year is to get into the NCAA Tournament, period. But then when you start having a pretty good year, you think that maybe we can contend for a national championship and everyone knows that your best chance to advance is to be able to play at home. It’s been a proven track record that most teams that advance have the opportunity to play at home.
“I went from a very big high of winning the BIG EAST tournament to an extreme low of being bypassed as a host site. And then to hear today that we were a 3-seed is really kind if a shocker. I don’t really care about the seeding because you have to win the games on the field. But to be named a 3-seed, I think there was a message there in what the selection committee thought of us and that was really disappointing. I can’t for the life of me understand why.
“It’s not like we’re a `one-year wonder.’ We’ve done it for many years. We’ve done well when we’ve gotten into the NCAA tournament. We’ve been to six straight NCAA regional final games. In 2002, we advanced all the way to the World Seeies. At some point, you would think there should be some respect but it just doesn’t seem like there is.
“We’re already highly motivated because we are in the NCAA tournament and the goal now is to win the national championship. If you don’t, your season ends with a loss. I told the team the correct answer is ‘no’ we don’t have anything to prove to anybody. I really believe that. We’ve proven ourselves time and time again against the top teams in the country and we’ve won postseason tournaments. What it does is make us mad – and if being mad makes you go out there and give a little bit more effort and play a little bit harder, then so be it.”
Cody Rizzo and the rest of the senior class have plenty of experience playing postseason games on the road, having already totaled 23 postseason games away from home during their careers (photo by Pete LaFleur).
On playing on the road:
“The reality now is that if we want to get to the College World Series, we are going to have to do it on the road. We’ve been on the road for nearly a month, so I guess it’s nothing new. We are a very tired team right now, we just were on the road for 12 days. It’s been a long couple of weeks.
“But we’ve been on the road and have been successful on the road so we don’t have to fight through the psychological thing. If we have to go on the road, a six-hour drive to Lexington, Kentucky, was a lot more attractive then a three-legged trip to somewhere else.”
On the key to the program’s sustained success:
“Pitching has been the common denominator to our eight straight NCAA teams. We’ve got a pretty good lineup and can catch the ball, can put some hits together and occasionally pop one out. But the job that Terry Rooney has done with our pitching staff has been absolutely remarkable and before that I had nine years with Brian O’Connor. I’ve had two tremendous pitching coaches that have worked and developed these guys – and when you pitch well, it gives you a chance to be competitive day in and day out.
“We have four outstanding starting pitchers. I’d match our four starters against any staff in the country and then we’ve got a closer with 16 saves and good setup men in Jess Stewart and Mike Dury. With out pitching, we have a chance to play deep in the tournament. But it takes more than that, with some big-character kids who know how to perform under pressure and know how to perform on a big stage. It’s kind of been a legacy that has been passed down from group to group.”
Wade Korpi’s emergence as one of the nation’s top No. 4 starters has added to Notre Dame’s impressive tradition of pitching excellence (photo by Marcus Snowden).
On the importance of a healthy season from Jeff Manship:
“Having Manship has been a big change in our team this year because he is a guy who has legitimate big-league stuff. He throws 90 miles-an-hour, he has a big-league changeup and he has the best curveball I’ve ever coached. Jeff Samardzija has been learning how to pitch and has great talent. Tom Thornton is the classic thinking man’s pitcher but Manship is a guy that brings the stuff and the pitching ability.
“So if you throw three starters like that out there on a weekend, you have a chance to do well. Now when you add to that Wade Korpi, who has been our midweek guy all year and all he does is win two games in the BIG EAST Tournament and earn MVP – it gives you a great deal of confidence in your pitching staff.
On next week’s Major League draft:
“I know that Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Manship would like to sign professionally after the season ends, even though they have eligibility remaining. And as long as they get the type of financial situation they are looking for, I will support their decision as long as they promise me that they will come back and get their degrees.
“Jeff Samardzija is a remarkable kid and he is in it for all the right reasons. He has told the professional baseball scouts that there is no dollar amount they could give him that would prevent him from playing his final season of football.”
On Samardzija’s growth as a pitcher:
“I’ve never probably been around a more coachable kid. He is like a sponge. When he is not pitching, he is standing right next to me and the pitching coach during the game, listening to everything that we are talking about, asking questions. He wants to learn, he wants to get better.
“But his breaking pitch today compared to what it was like as a freshman, it’s like 180-degrees at the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s got a good changeup now. He understands that he does not have to rear back and throw as hard as he can on every pitch. In his last outing, he threw three pitches that hit 99 miles-an-hour. He threw a pitch that hit 97 in the seventh inning of the game against West Virginia. But he also understands that if he throws a two-seam fastball and takes a little bit off, then he can run that pitch down and in, kind of like (Greg) Maddux does to the righthanded hitters, and he doesn’t have to throw as hard if he’s going to make them beat it into the ground.
“It may seem that he’s not striking out as many batters as he should but he doesn’t want to. Wade Korpi struck out 11 batters in six innings against South Florida but I had to take him out because he was at 115 pitches. I don’t have to take Samardzija out after six innings. He’s improved in a lot of ways, really.
“(Former Notre Dame football coach) Ty Willingham was great. He was wonderful. He was the one that encouraged me to allow Jeff to play baseball. Most football coaches don’t want a guy to play, but he allowed Jeff to do it. But Charlie (Wes) took it to another level. Charlie has given the kid most of spring practice off, so that he really could give himself the best chance to develop as a pitcher.”
Craig Cooper’s full-time transition to the leadoff spot has yielded a .427 season batting average that is best among any player from a top-25 team (photo by Matt Cashore).
SENIOR FIRST BASEMAN Craig Cooper
On his role as the leadoff hitter for most of the 2006 season:
“I think it’s helped me out, not having to try to drive in runs every time I’m up, especially to start off games. If I get on, I’m doing my job and it has helped me out because I’m seeing a lot more opportunities to hit from the leadoff spot.
“I think the leadoff spot has helped with my consistency this season. If I’d been in the middle of the lineup I might have seen a lot more offspeed stuff early in the count but just having the opportunity to see pitches to hit and the repetition you get in the leadoff spot – I’ve gotten some extra at-bats in the games and that’s been able to help all season.
“One game when we were at South Florida, a guy got to first base and he talked about how we had a first baseman batting leadoff. And Cody (Rizzo) had caught the first game and then was playing in center field. So he asked, `What’s the deal?’ But it’s fun for us and we have several guys who can play a number of roles.”
On the NCAA seedings:
“I’m not disappointed. The biggest thing for us was knowing that we were in and did our job. It didn’t really matter who we play. We know that we can compete with anyone and at this point we have played nationally-ranked teams for the past four years. It doesn’t matter where you go. It’s disappointing for our fans and we had a great fanbase this year. But we know that we can go out and do the job on the road as well.
“I’m playing with my best friends in the world every day and playing with them for the last four years has been an absolute dream. The only way we could cap it off would be to make a great postseason run. We are just going to do our best and go all-out.”
Greg Lopez – who just was named a third team Academic All-American – is one of seven seniors who serve as regular contributors for the veteran Irish squad (photo by Pete LaFleur).
SENIOR SHORTSTOP Greg Lopez
“We’re definitely excited. We were hoping to host a regional, but that didn’t happen. We’re excited to go to Kentucky. I think it’s going to be a great regional and we’ll get ready to play College of Charleston for the first game. You still have to win the games, and we’ve proven we can win a lot of games.
“We know that we’re in every game. We just started to believe we could get it done. I think during the 23-game winning streak, we had 11 or 12 come-from-behind wins. That’s the good thing about this team. Even when we’re down, whatever inning it is, we know we can come back.”
Jeff Manship was rated the nation’s No. 3 freshman prospect entering the 2003 season and now has returned from major elbow surgery to rate among the top pitchers for next week’s MLB draft (photo by Pete LaFleur).
JUNIOR RIGHTHANDER Jeff Manship
On the NCAA selections:
“We are at the selection committee’s mercy and can’t do much about it.”
On his season and the upcoming draft:
“Everything is working out pretty well. This next start is a big start for me. If I do well in that, it will help me out even more. The whole mental aspect of the game, I’ve learned so much and my arm has been feeling better and better every time out.”
On the impact of Notre Dame pitching coach Terry Rooney:
“Coach Rooney has helped me so much. In high school, my coach had just started coaching. But coach Rooney has taught me so much mentally but also physically with the rehab from my shoulder injury. It’s definitely brought me good results.”
JUNIOR RIGHTHANDER Jeff Samardzija
On the NCAA selections:
“There’s not much you can do. We did everything we could in the field and it’s out of our hands. We’re just out there playing and all we can do is play the games on the field. Any time you can be at home, you want to be at home because you are sleeping in your own bed and not being delayed or whatever. But on the other hand, when you do go on the road you get used to it and get in a rhythm. We’ve learned from it.”
Jeff Samardzija’s status as a two-sport prospect has been well-documented during the past few months (photo by Mike Bennett).
On his desire to play football in the fall:
“I’ll be back playing football, no matter what. There’s nothing that can take me away from playing football with all my buddies. I owe it to them to be there and something would be wrong with me if I didn’t show up. The football team is very important to me and baseball is, too, so I’m just living two lives here and taking it as it comes. Notre Dame is very important for me and everything it has done for me, so I just want to give back as much as I can.
“What that team gives to me and what those guys give to me as teammates and as friends – there might be someone else in my situation who wants to sell out and take the money, but that’s not the type of person I want to be around and I definitely don’t want to be looked at like that. There a lot of standards I have and that’s definitely one of them. It’s just a matter of respect you give for yourself and for the other players and that says a lot about my commitment to that.”
Jeff Samardzija entered the ’06 season as college baseball’s #95 prospect for the MLB draft but Baseball America’s latest projections now list him among the top-20 college prospects and No. 37 overall, including high school players (photo by Pete LaFleur).
On the limitations of not being able to play summer or fall baseball:
“Any time you can get out and work all summer on a certain aspect of your pitching game, it’s going to help you. But the fact that I’m out still competing in football, it helps. I’m always competing at the highest level whether it’s Division I football or Division I baseball. That helps but at the same time if you are not out there repeating your pitches and repeating your delivery, you are going to miss out on some things. That’s why this spring’s schedule has helped out with my baseball so much and it just sort of took off from there, getting to actually put in the work.”
On pitching in the postseason:
“We are just going to go out and do what we do. It’s not like we are going to go out in our 15th start of the season and pull out some things that we didn’t do the rest of the year. If you throw harder, that’s one thing. All I’m going to do is go out and throw and if sometimes it goes a little harder, it does. But I’m not doing it to get drafted higher, I’m just doing it to win games for these guys. If that means slower, I’ll throw slower and if it that means I need to throw harder, I’ll throw harder.
“I’m not concerned with where I get drafted. I’m just focused on our season and going out and doing what I need to do. If I do that, everything will take care of itself.”
On his high school baseball career:
“In high school, I was a pitcher but I was more of just a thrower. I went up there and wherever it went, it went, and if people put a bat on it, they put a bat on it. And that’s all it was, because as long as I could remember that’s what baseball was for me – just going out there and having fun like in the backyard.”
Jeff Samardzija joined the Notre Dame baseball program in the spring of 2004 as a raw talent with tremendous upside (photo by Pete LaFleur).
On Notre Dame pitching coach Terry Rooney’s influence:
“When I got to Notre Dame, it changed things. What coach Rooney did, with the little amount of time he had with me, was pretty amazing. He grew me when it comes to pitching – mentally, physically, all the things like that. I had to age faster because of the less time I had. It was pretty amazing what he did. He played a huge part of it and took me from being a player to being a pitcher.”
On his background as an all-state centerfielder in high school:
“If you love the game, you want to do all of it and that’s one aspect of me, I love playing baseball. I was an outfielder in high school whenever I wasn’t pitching – so it’s always going to be there.”