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Lopez already drawing comparisons to ND greats

Chris Federico | Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Irish coach Paul Mainieri thinks that maybe the city officials of Upper Arlington, Ohio, have been putting something in their water.

After all, the city that produced former Notre Dame centerfielder and All-American Steve Stanley has now sent current shortstop Greg Lopez to the Irish.

“I love Greg Lopez. He reminds me so much of Steve Stanley, who happens also to be from Upper Arlington, Ohio, so I don’t know if its something in the water up there or not,” Mainieri said. “They both share the same passion for life, and whatever they are doing, they just do it full blast.”

Lopez’s all-out attitude has paid off dividends for the Irish this season. The sophomore currently leads No. 4 Notre Dame in batting with an average of .373. Lopez was also named Big East Player of the Week this week for going 10-for-19 at the plate in six games with six RBIs and four runs scored, combined with four error-free games in the field.

“Greg Lopez goes on that baseball field and just plays the game full tilt. He never lets up,” Mainieri said. “He’s having fun, he’s talking, he’s energetic, and he plays with a lot of enthusiasm.”

That enthusiasm for the game of baseball is likely what Mainieri saw in Lopez last season, when he inserted the then-freshman into the starting lineup at third base 40 times and even stuck with him through a late season slump. Lopez said that having Mainieri’s confidence enabled him to be a better player.

“Having that confidence definitely helped, especially last year, where I did pretty well at the beginning of the season, but struggled late in the season,” Lopez said. “But he kept his confidence in me and kept putting me back out there at third base. He has his confidence behind me and everyone else on the field, and it really just helps out in getting your game going and helping people play well.”

Lopez finished the season with a .250 batting average, but with great potential for improvement in the future.

Mainieri, who has never been hesitant to play freshmen early and often, stuck with Lopez and made it clear to the youngster that the starting spot at shortstop was his for the taking in 2004.

“I always knew [Lopez] could hit. When I scouted that kid in high school, I just thought he was a good hitter,” Mainieri said. “Last year was an aberration, and I think it was partly because he was a freshman. … This year, he’s playing more like I thought he could play, and I think it’s made us a better team frankly.”

In fact, Lopez is in the midst of a season that could end up as one of the best all-around years for any shortstop in the Mainieri era. In the past 10 seasons, the highest batting average by an Irish shortstop was posted by Brant Ust, whose .372 mark is one point behind Lopez’s current .373 average.

Defensively, Lopez has been just as stellar, committing just 10 errors in 34 games played this year, while tallying 26 error-free games. Alec Porzel, who posted a .957 fielding percentage in 2001, is the only other Irish shortstop in the last 10 years to post a better fielding percentage than Lopez’s current mark of .940.

“My defense has been what I have to focus on, not so much my offense,” Lopez said. “I need to stay aggressive and really make a play on the ball instead of having a ground ball make a play on me.”

As just a sophomore, Lopez already has the honor of being mentioned among the list of some recent Notre Dame greats. But even with that, Lopez knows that he cannot sit on his current praise and must continue to improve both at bat and in the field.

“I’m excited to be right among some of the best shortstops in recent Notre Dame history, especially as just a sophomore,” he said. “I’m going to just keep doing what I have been, and try to help the team out any way I can.”