Lidge starts off season strong
Brian Hartnett | Tuesday, February 17, 2015
By the end of Notre Dame’s season opener Friday, sophomore catcher Ryan Lidge had already surpassed his total from last season in one statistical category: home runs.
Lidge connected for his first collegiate four-bagger off Southern Illinois-Edwardsville senior right-hander Brett Thomas in Notre Dame’s 7-6 victory Friday afternoon.
“I knew it was gone right off the bat,” he said. “Right as I hit it, it felt really good. I knew it had the trajectory, and I kind of let it be known that I knew it was gone.”
More important, Lidge’s two-run home run, hit in the seventh inning with the Irish down 6-5, proved to be the eventual game-winner in the victory over the Cougars, jump starting an opening weekend in which Notre Dame won three of four games.
“Being down by one in the seventh [inning], big situation, and hitting a home run in that situation is pretty cool,” Lidge said. “… It’s probably the No. 1 home run I’ve hit in my career, just to do it for my team is really special.”
Lidge’s offensive production didn’t stop with his dinger Friday night. In three starts over the weekend, he went 5-for-11 with three RBIs and two runs scored, hitting well above the .264 clip at which he hit last season.
Lidge’s opening weekend success at the plate resulted largely from the Barrington, Illinois native simplifying his approach, Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki said.
“I think he’s gotten more mature, just from an emotional and mental standpoint, and I don’t think he worries as much about where he is in the lineup, or ‘Did I get a hit?’ or ‘I need to do this,’ or whatever,” Aoki said of Lidge. “I don’t think he obsesses about that to the degree that he did last year.
“I think he was able to just go out there and understand that, ‘You know what, I’m good enough to play at this level, and I’m good enough to be a really good player at this level.’”
Lidge, who will split time at the catcher position with graduate student Forrest Johnson, credited much of his off-season growth to his experience playing with the Kalamazoo Growlers of the Northwoods League, a wooden bat summer ball league, shortly after last season ended.
“This summer for me was a big learning experience, playing around 70 games,” he said. “It teaches you a lot because you’re on your own. … I would say the biggest thing I took from this summer was maturing as a baseball player, knowing it’s just a game, and there’s a lot of failure in it.”
During his stint in Kalamazoo, Lidge was selected to the Northwoods League All-Star Game and named one of Rawlings “Finest in the Field,” the league’s equivalent of a Golden Glove award. Lidge, who boasted a spotless 1.000 fielding percentage in 31 games with the Irish last season, recorded a .985 fielding percentage and only committed four errors in 42 games with the Growlers.
Lidge said his defensive success is mainly a byproduct of his comfort behind the plate.
“I’m very confident in the running game; I think I can throw everyone out,” Lidge said. “Blocking, framing, whatever it be, I’m just extremely confident.”
In addition to his defense, Lidge said a key area of focus for him this season will be working on developing strong relationships with the Irish pitching staff. He said he learned the importance of pitcher-catcher trust from his cousin, Brad Lidge, who pitched at Notre Dame from 1995 to 1998 before embarking on an 11-season major league career as a reliever for the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals.
“In 2008, [Brad] had a catcher, Carlos Ruiz, and I remember whenever I’d call [Brad], he would just say he trusted him so much, and he loved throwing to him,” Lidge said. “What I took from that was getting the trust of my pitchers, forming relationships with them, really try to get to know who they are outside of baseball, as well as in baseball.
“If you have your pitcher throwing to someone they care about, they know, they trust, it’s going to help them much more in game situations, in intense situations.”
While the season is only four games old, Lidge said this year is shaping up to be a special one for the Irish, who finished last season with a 22-31 record.
“Most importantly, there’s great chemistry, everyone gets along, everyone hangs out with each other,” Lidge said of his team. “There’s something special brewing here, and it feels really good to be part of. We’ve just got to trust in our confidence, trust in our process and good things will happen.”