Feb. 8, 2010
By Sam Hovland, ND Sports Information
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – In today’s high-pressure sports world, student-athletes often face immense demands to succeed in athletics. For players like Notre Dame’s Matt Scioscia, Steve Sabatino, Ryne Intlekofer, and Will Harford, each of whom boasts family ties to professional baseball, the pressure is often greater. Yet all four developed a personal love and passion for the game, fueled in large part by positive support from their families.
Scioscia, a junior catcher and the son of former Los Angeles Dodgers catcher and current Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, grew up hanging around the likes of Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda in Dodger Stadium. But Matt always saw his father as who he really was–Dad.
“To be honest, growing up I really didn’t know that I was in a particular situation until I started getting older,” recalled Scioscia. “Looking back, Tommy was just Tommy to me and my dad was just my dad, and that’s just was the way it was. I became more aware of it during high school, and it was kind of surreal when it hit me that he was pretty up there in the records. I felt blessed and fortunate to have that situation.”
Mike won the second of his two World Series titles as a player in 1988, exactly one month after Matt was born, and last appeared in the Major Leagues in 1992, when Matt was just four. Thus, a new venue was needed to introduce Matt to his dad’s playing days: ESPN Classic.
“When I was 10 or 11 they would have some of his games on ESPN Classic, and I would watch him there,” said Scioscia. “Watching him on television is kind of surreal because when you watch anybody you know on TV, you’re like, `Oh, I know him!’ and it was like, `No way, that’s my dad!’ So it was pretty cool, and now I poke fun at him because of that. If he struck out, I would ask him, `Hey Dad, what happened there?'”
Ironically, striking out was something the elder Scioscia rarely did; he drew 567 free passes compared to just 307 strikeouts over his 13-year career. He was fanned just 21 times in 429 at bats in 1985, giving him a walk-to-strikeout ratio (77 walks) that has been eclipsed just three times since then (once by Wade Boggs, twice by Barry Bonds). Mike has also been heralded as a terrific defensive catcher, with former Dodgers vice president Al Campanis once calling him the best plate-blocking catcher he had ever seen. Mike has certainly taught his son these finer aspects of catching, but also, and more importantly, the finer aspects of the game of life.
“He has always instilled in me the values, not only of baseball, but also of life. He is good about keeping baseball in its place and separating family and baseball when he comes home. Whether the team is on a winning streak or a losing streak, he stays the same. Obviously, if you lose 10 games straight you are going to be bummed, but he does not let that affect him to the point of putting the family aspect of his life in jeopardy. I try to do the same thing as a baseball player here; once practice is done, I go back to the dorm and it is just campus life, and I hang out with my friends, which is great.”
Sophomore LHP Steve Sabatino.
While Mike Scioscia’s baseball career took off, one can only ask what might have been with regards to sophomore Steve Sabatino’s father, John, who was invited to spring training as a right-handed pitcher with the Chicago White Sox in the late `80s and had a shot at a spot on the 40-man roster before shoulder and knee injuries ended his career. Steve, like Matt Scioscia, has spent his whole life around the game, but the elder Sabatino kept talk about his own career to a minimum and made sure baseball was what Steve really wanted to pursue.
“As long as I can remember, I always just enjoyed playing and I loved it,” remarked Sabatino, also a pitcher. “He never tried to push it on me or anything, but he just sort of guided me. I played a little football early on too, so he guided me in that direction as well. I just stuck to baseball because that’s what I really liked.”
As far as getting to the big leagues, a chance his father never had, Steve will certainly try–but as a product of baseball desire, not to avenge his dad’s injury.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a specific goal to get past where my dad did. I absolutely, more than anything, want to play in Major League Baseball one day, but for the reason that baseball’s such a passion for me. I feel like my dad wants that too, but not for himself; he wants it for me, because he sees that it’s a passion for me.”
Senior INF Ryne Intlekofer.
Some people grow up in a “Notre Dame family” or a “baseball family,” and for senior Ryne Intlekofer, it was a lot of both. His grandfather, Johnny Intlekofer, played on the Notre Dame freshman baseball team in 1930 and later pitched for 15 seasons in the minor leagues, winning 138 games. His cousins, Chris and Brian Intlekofer, played baseball for Loyola Marymount, and their dad, Jack, played at Cal State Northridge and subsequently in the California Angels organization. In addition, three more of Ryne’s relatives studied under the Golden Dome: his other grandfather, Mike Woods, his uncle, Richard Intlekofer, and his stepdad (who was a member of the Irish track team). Safe to say when then-Irish coach Paul Mainieri packaged Notre Dame and baseball together into a scholarship, Intlekofer was more than happy to make the trek from California to South Bend.
“I couldn’t say no; if they had given me five bucks to play here, I would have said yes,” admitted Intlekofer.
Notre Dame and baseball are always topics of conversation in the Intlekofer family gatherings, but Ryne never felt pressure to attend Notre Dame or tread the diamond, although he wanted badly to do both. In fact, Intlekofer was looking into playing baseball at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before the call came from Mainieri.
“My dad was a basketball player, but my parents have always told me, `You play what you want to play.’ I don’t remember if I wanted to play baseball when I was young, but I signed up for Little League and I’ve always enjoyed playing.”
A family full of baseball players inevitably leads to some great stories, and Intlekofer’s favorite comes at the expense of his cousin Brian.
“We went to watch my cousin Brian play at Loyola Marymount when he was a freshman. They have this thing where the entire freshman class shaves their heads; we kind of do the same thing here, but they took it a step beyond. Brian used a Bic razor to shave his head, and it’s a very meticulous process apparently. If you don’t do it the right way, you’ll ding your head up pretty badly. And he did just that; he had cuts everywhere. He was as bald as can be, but he had cuts and scabs and stuff all over his head, so that was pretty funny.”
Senior INF/C Will Harford.
Senior Will Harford’s ties to Major League Baseball come via the front office, as his father, Bill Harford, is a long-time Chicago Cubs scout who has also served time as director of minor league operations, director of player development and farm director.
“Ever since I was born, he’s been working in pro baseball. He’ll cover about six major league clubs and then he’ll cover two organizations top-to-bottom, including all the minor league levels. But most of the time he’s at the big league level scouting the pro games on TV and whatnot,” said Harford of his dad’s scouting duties.
Baseball became second nature for Will after hanging around his dad at a young age, which included trips to spring training as well as something few youngsters could ever hope for: the chance to be bat boy at Wrigley Field.
“That was awesome. He’s brought me along and let me be a part of things like that ever since I was really little.”
And just as for the other three, Will’s situation has done nothing but increase his dedication to the game.
“Baseball has just been something I’ve loved doing ever since I was little. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to tag along with him.”
After all, as Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once said, when they start the game of baseball, they don’t yell, “Work ball,” they say, “Play ball.” Rest assured that when these four take the field in the spring for the Irish, they will be nodding in agreement–thanks to relatives who have “worked” in the game.
— ND —