Irish Baseball Season Wrap Up Part Two: Indoor Facility Limitations?
The Notre Dame baseball team exploded to an 11-2 start in 2020 before the season was abruptly cut short due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
What made this start to the season even more impressive was that a majority of the wins came against southern schools that are able to practice outside for a majority of the fall and winter.
“It’s really impressive what our guys were able to do,” Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett said. “Our entire preseason is done in the confines of the indoor facility at Loftus. We basically have a football field.
“Then we have our indoor cages which we share with softball. Baseball and softball are in a very unique situation in terms of we're training on a space that's not really designed for our field.”
While both sports are stuck inside, the average collegiate center field fence is roughly 200 feet farther from home plate than it is on a softball field.
“Softball, because their field is smaller, they can scrimmage a little bit easier than we can,” Jarrett said. “We really can’t scrimmage in our indoor facility. The way our guys transition from our preseason into actual competition was really was impressive, and I’m proud of our coaching staff and the players for executing the things that we worked on.”
But where most baseball fans and coaches would see this situation as a disadvantage, Jarrett and his staff focused on finding the silver lining.
The fall, winter and early spring weather at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where Jarrett was the head coach for seven years prior to taking the same position at Notre Dame, is certainly warmer than it is in South Bend, but that doesn’t mean the conditions are always ideal, either.
According to Jarrett, this can make it hard to plan practice even a day in advance.
“Where I came from in North Carolina, you might have a week or so where your field was damp, frozen, muddy and you couldn’t get out there or you really didn’t have the capability to know what you were going to be able to do until you assessed the field that afternoon,” he said. “Well, in this case, it was great knowing that for these two hours we can do A, B, C, D and that’s going to be a really good workout.
“Even though you're inside, the consistency of knowing you could plan it out and go do it was awesome.”
A big focus during those well-planned and executed indoor practices? Base running.
No wonder the team is fourth out of 298 division one baseball teams in stolen bases per game.
Included in Jarrett’s base running lessons were how and when to steal home, a situation that came to fruition in the third contest of the series against North Carolina when freshman Jack Brannigan reached third base in the seventh inning of a close ball game.
“I always work on that at least twice in the preseason,” Jarrett said. “You’ve got to work on it from a left-handed pitcher standpoint, what that was like, so they know which step is the rocker steps to actually start delivery. In case the guy steps off, they have to have enough poise to really see what's happening.”
Knowing that bullpen pitcher Max Alba’s delivery from the windup lasted a little more than 3.1 seconds, Jarrett put in the call to Brannigan and cleanup hitter Niko Kavadas while the pitcher warmed up. If the pitcher went from the windup, Kavadas would take the first pitch while Brannigan took off for home.
The play worked to perfection.
With roughly 40 games left to play when the season was canceled, it's impossible to know if the Jarrett and the Notre Dame program could have continued to play at such a high level, but the team was well prepared in its first 13 games, despite barely having a chance to get outside.
Perhaps the team had yet to hit its stride?