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Baseball: Kelly speaks at opening night

Jared Jedick | Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Irish kicked their season off in style last night with the annual Baseball Opening Night Dinner highlighted by Major League Baseball star and Notre Dame alumnus Ron Reed and Irish football coach Brian Kelly as keynote speakers.

The star power had even Kelly wide-eyed.

“It is so different at Notre Dame than anywhere else I’ve been, that being a part of this university you are immediately around greatness and you are always meeting great people,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame is ready to put last year’s disappointing failure to get into the NCAA Tournament behind it and focus on how it can make sure there are no questions this time around.

“We felt based on our RPI, how many games we had won, and how we had finished the season that we would get into the NCAA Tournament,” Irish baseball coach Dave Schrage said. “So our team was in the locker room watching the selection show when we did not get picked. There was silence for a good 10 minutes. Walking in to address to those individuals was probably the hardest speech I have ever had to give.”

But the disappointment from last season quickly turned into motivation, as now the team is committed to making sure that rejection does not happen again.

“Ever since that day from a coaching perspective and a player’s perspective we really have been focusing on making sure that there is no doubt this year that the NCAA selects us,” Schrage said.

The team has committed to two mottos for this year, which Schrage has had put on T-shirts for every player. That motto is ‘898, committed to win,’ signifying the sum of all the players’ numbers on the team, and ‘one team, rock solid.’ The ‘898′ is meant to be a reminder that every member of the team is important if they are going to win, and the ‘one team, rock solid’ is meant to show that they have to do it together.

To achieve these goals, Schrage has outlined a three-point plan.

“Our number one goal is to care about each other,” Schrage said. “Selfishness lead to L’s, and selflessness leads to W’s. Every day when we wake up, we deliberatively and intentionally — those are the two words we use — we give the very best effort that we can. The third thing is that we need to be enthusiastic about that effort.”

Reed, a rags-to-riches story at Notre Dame, went from flunking out of school as a freshman and facing working on an assembly line in Indiana to becoming one of the great stars at Notre Dame in both baseball and basketball, as well as playing with such great players as MLB legend Hank Aaron. Part of Reed’s fame is that he played an important role in Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run to pass Babe Ruth on April 8, 1974.

“But if you look at the bottom of that box score for that game it says, winning pitcher, Ronald Reed,” Reed said.

Reed had one piece of advice for all the players that were in attendance, and that was a school related message.

“I hope each and every one of you makes it to the big leagues, but there are no guarantees,” Reed said. “It is highly improbable, not impossible, but improbable. But what you have in the palm of your hand right now is a degree from the University of Notre Dame.”

Kelly ended the dinner with an impassioned speech about what he believes a team is capable of once they have begun to focus on the process and habituating themselves to what it takes to succeed.

“Because what this team is after this year is different,” Kelly said. “It is not just about winning games, because a lot of people know how to win games. What I think this baseball team is on the verge of is winning consistently. That’s the hard part.”

The Irish will have their first shot at showing that consistency Friday at 1 p.m. when they take on Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena, Miss.