By STEVE KRAH
Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).
Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).
Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.
Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.
“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.
“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”
The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.
“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.
“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”
Aoki has noticed.
“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.
“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).
“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.
“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”
In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.
As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.
He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.
The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.
“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.
“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.
“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.
“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”
Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.
“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.
“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.
“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”
Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.
“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”
Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”
“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.
“He’s a real good role model for me.”
Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).
Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.
“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.
“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”
Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.
In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.
“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.
Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)
Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)