Notre Dame has one of the oldest lineups in NCAA Division I college baseball. After a second-straight regional championship, the Link Jarrett-coached Fighting Irish (40-15) beat No. 1-ranked and overall top seed Tennessee 2-1 in the three-game super regional held in Knoxville, Tenn. (8-6 win June 10, 12-4 loss June 11, 7-3 win June 12) to earn a berth in the 2022 College World Series. The event runs June 16-27 in Omaha, Neb. The Notre Dame starting lineup in the super regional clincher featured righty-swinging left fielder Ryan Cole (22), switch-hitting second baseman Jared Miller (23), righty-swinging first baseman Carter Putz (22), designated hitter Jack Zyska (22), righty-swinging catcher David LaManna (23), third baseman Jack Brannigan (21), righty-swinging shortstop Zack Prajzner (22), righty-swinging right fielder Brooks Coetze (22), switch-hitting center fielder Spencer Myers (23) and right-handed pitcher Liam Simon (21). Cole, Miller, LaManna and Myers are all graduate students. Putz, Prajzner and Coetze are seniors. Brannigan and Simon are juniors. Ace John Michael Bertrand (24) started Game 2 against Tennessee. Usual No. 2 weekend starter Austin Temple (22) took the ball for Game 1 to keep Bertrand on his usual rest. Lefty-hander Bertrand and righty Temple are both graduate students. On Wednesday, Bertrand, Brannigan and ND left-hander Jack Findlayreceived All-American honors — Bertrand second team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Branigan third team by Perfect Game and Findlay second team by PG. The last time Notre Dame went to Omaha was 2002 when the Irish went 2-2 and were eliminated by semifinalist Stanford in a year when Texas won the national championship. Bertrand, who was born in 1998, was not yet 4. Texas (47-20) is Notre Dame’s opponent in CWS Game 2 of Bracket 1 at 7 p.m. Friday, June 17. The Longhorns won the Greenville Super Regional with a Game 3 starting combination against host East Carolina featuring four redshirt seniors, two redshirt juniors, three redshirt sophomores and one sophomore. Texas A&M (42-18) plays Oklahoma (42-22) in Game 1 of Bracket 1 at 2 p.m. Friday. In Bracket 2 on Saturday, June 18, it’s Stanford (47-16) vs. Arkansas (43-19) at 2 and Ole Miss (37-22) vs. Auburn (42-20) at 7. The double-elimination phase goes through June 23 with the best-of-three finals June 25-27. Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Michael Early is the Texas A&M hitting coach. Jarrett is in his second season leading Notre Dame. He began establishing his system in the fall of 2019. He has continued to share his ideas about building complete hitters and has talked about what it means to be a coach. College World Series games will air and be streamed by ESPN.
A veteran umpire and his son have been calling high school games this spring in northern Indiana. South Bend’s Laird Salmon, 64, has been an umpire for more than two decades and an IHSAA-licensed official for upwards of 15 years. Matt Laird, 28, is in his first season as an IHSAA umpire. A 2012 graduate of South Bend Riley High School, where he was a player, he served in the U.S. Navy for nearly seven years and is now a student at Indiana University South Bend. Matt expects to work around 15 games and is not yet eligible for IHSAA tournament play. Laird’s 2022 schedule started at the end of February. He worked 13 games in Florida. By season’s end, the custom furniture maker and Bowling Green (Ohio) State University graduate expects to have between 60 and 70 contests. Many schools use assigners. Games are often booked through EventLink. Matt and his brothers played at Southeast Little League in South Bend. That’s where Laird got his umpiring start. “All the dads like to come late in Little League because they don’t want to umpire,” says Laird. “I was one of the guys who didn’t mind doing it. I always used to come prepared and did it. “I eventually decided that this isn’t a bad gig. It’s kind of fun to do.” Not that he enjoys it every time out. “Some days I don’t,” says Laird. “I’m just being honest. Some days it’s work. We call it work. But — for the most part — it’s a fun game. “It’s fun to hone your skills as an umpire. You try to get a good strike zone. You try to make sure you get everything right.” There are often second-guessers. “The fans think you’re one-sided,” says Laird. “No. We’re trying to get every single play right. It’s a challenge. “Coaches are passionate about their teams. They see it a certain way. They see it how they think it was. Well, that’s not how it happened. “We’re there to be impartial.” Matt notes that the coaches often don’t have a better angle than the umpire to make a call. Many times, fans don’t know the rule they are arguing about. Matt cites an example from a recent game in South Bend. “(An outfielder) was on the warning track,” says Matt. “As he caught the ball he ran into the fence and dropped it. You have to have possession of the ball and voluntary release.” The fans were all over the umpires, screaming “That was a catch!” “No. There wasn’t a catch,” says Laird. “That’s a prime example of not knowing the rules. “We strive to know the rules.” Matt is always coming up with possibilities on the diamond and those are almost endless. “You put forth a situation to see what would happen,” says Matt. “The situations aren’t always in the rule book. “You have the overall general rule, but it doesn’t outline every scenario that you’re going to see out on the field.” Laird tries to think about what could happen. “Could I have batter or catcher interference?,” says Laird. “What else could possibly happen? “Catcher’s interference is really hard. Did the ball hit the mitt before the bat or the bat hit the mitt before the ball or did it all together?” Mechanics involve timing and consistency. “You try to use the same exact stance every single time,” says Laird about setting up to call balls and strikes. “Sometimes you have a catcher that loves to squirm,” says Laird. “I had a catcher that would set up late every single time. “About the 10th or 11th pitch, I understand that. I have to wait to the catcher gets set and moves up and then I get in my spot. “We don’t coach. I’d love to tell catchers to scoot up. You’re taking pitches away from your pitcher. I’m just there to call balls and strikes. If it doesn’t look good because (the catcher) is way back here it’s probably going to be a ball.” The Salmons, who are members of the St. Joseph Valley Officials Association, see the umpire shortage. What can be done to bring the numbers up? “It starts with a little bit of recruiting,” says Matt. “People also have to be interested in it. One way to get people really interested is to raise the game fees.” Rates vary. In the South Bend area, umpires make around $50 for a junior varsity game and varsity ranges between $65 and $75 depending on the school. Umpires have to way factors of time, gas prices and the heat they may get from the fans, coaches and players. Emotions are bound to be a part of baseball. Matt says it’s up to the adults to see they don’t get out of hand, leading to a blow-up or an ejection. “The coaches are supposed to set the example for the kids,” says Matt. “As soon as they do that, the kids think it’s OK. The kids get tossed and the parents overreact because you just tossed their kid when they set a terrible example for him, right? “The kids’ behavior follows the coaches almost to a tee. If he’s a decent coach and he’s calm, the kids are going to be calm. If the coaches is hyper and all strung up, the kids are going to be all strung up.” The Salmons don’t do all their games together, but when they do a decision gets made long before they reach the field on who will be the one behind the plate. “If he’s had a particular team behind the plate already, I’ll typically take that team and vice versa,” says Matt. Jennifer Salmon, Laird’s wife and Matt’s mother, will often be there to lend support. ESPN’s Buster Olney has floated the idea of having Major League Baseball umpires rotate to do more games behind the plate or at a specific base relative to their accuracy rates. If an umpire is getting 95 percent of balls and strikes correct they would be called upon for that duty more often than one who has a lower grade. “You run into a lot of problems with that as training goes,” says Matt of Olney’s proposal. “If one person is always taking the plate and another guy hasn’t worked the plate in 40-plus games how crisp is he going to be with those strike calls? It’s going to be even worse. “On top of that, you have to deal with retirement issues. When somebody leaves, someone has to be there to step in and fill their role. “Behind the plate is still a man game (with no replay reviews that can overturn calls). How much practice do you need (on the safes and outs) if you can review the calls anyways?” Says Laird, “The electronic strike zone is not there yet. I don’t think it will be there for a few years.”
Jeremy Frank has taken his love for baseball and numbers and carved out quite a niche in the diamond community. Six years after creating @MLBRandomStats on Twitter, he has nearly 78,000 followers. “It’s really cool that there are that many people out there interested in random baseball stats like me,” says Frank, a 20-year-old Data Science major at Purdue University. His @Diamond_Digest Twitter account — launched in 2017 — has more than 7,800 followers. Frank, a 2019 graduate of Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., who hails from Buffalo Grove, Ill., has joined with fellow stat hunter Jim Passon Jr., of Tacoma, Wash., (runs a similar Twitter account — @PassonJim) to publish “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1876-1919 (Vol. 1)” in May 2019 and “Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For From 1920-1969 (Vol. 2)” in May 2020. A third volume covering 1970 to the present is in the works, “It’s a look at baseball’s history through random stats of each time,” says Frank. “We go year-by-year and find the most fun facts. “We don’t use super-advanced statistics. We might mention the first player with 30 home runs and fewer than 30 strikeouts. We’ll talk about WAR (Wins About Replacement) once in awhile.” A guest on several podcasts and featured on several websites and more, Frank is especially proud of being invited on ESPN during a Korea Baseball Organization broadcast during the 2020 U.S. baseball shutdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was on at 4 a.m. with play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti and commentator Jessica Mendoza. “It was really cool for me,” says Frank. “I’m still just in college.” As a data intern in the summer of 2021, Frank gained experience with Sports Reference, LLC. “I was able to work on a bunch of projects,” says Frank, who now works part-time on the company’s marketing team. “I Tweet during games,” says Frank. “It’s the same as on my personal account.” Just this week, Frank let his followers know the best batting average in at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout. Chicago Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom (.428) was second on that list. The oldest child of Cubs fan Missy Frank and White Sox fan Nolan Frank counts himself as a Cubs rooter. “The first few years I was a huge baseball fan was 2015 and 2016 — the best Cubs team in over 100 years,” says Jeremy Frank, whose sister Allison is a Stevenson senior in 2021-22. “I also go to a lot of White Sox games. I was at Mark Buehrle’s perfect game (on July 23, 2009). That’s the first game I kept score at.” Where did Frank’s affinity for athletics and numbers begin? “Growing up I’ve always been a big sports fan,” says Frank. “My favorite subject was math.” Frank devoured the stats on baseball cards and watched the movie “Moneyball” for the first time when he was about 10. “I saw that teams hire people who use statistics,” says Frank. “My goal since then has been to work in sports.” While Frank has not yet read the Michael Lewis book that led to the film, he does have a take on the movie. “It’s kind of outdated now, but the (Oakland) A’s got a big edge because they could compete with big market teams (by utilizing analytics). Now the Yankees still spend and have a team of analytics people.” But a team can’t thrive on number-crunching alone. “You have to have good players to win games,” says Frank. As president of the Purdue Sports Analytics Club, Frank has seen the group got about 30 during his freshmen year to between 200 and 300 this year. The club meets at 7:30 p.m. each Wednesday and recently had ESPN MLB Insider Jeff Passan and Sports Reference, LLC founder and president Sean Forman as Zoom guest speakers. “We have competitions, trivia nights and analytics projects,” says Frank. He sees Data Science as “wide-ranging degree that gives you a lot of skills.” This semester, Frank is taking four classes (12 credit hours) — Economics (Game Theory), Computer Science (Machine Learning), Communication and Environmental Science. Because of COVID-19 protocols, Frank has not been able to get too involved with Purdue sports teams though he did Tweet some stats for the Boilermakers baseball team in 2020. Frank is seeking a different kind of internship for the summer of 2022. “I want to get a taste for all the things you can do in sports analytics,” says Frank (Purdue Class of 2023). What about after graduation? “Working in front office would be cool,” says Frank. “I’m not sure yet.” Frank also finds time in his schedule for fantasy sports. He runs baseball and football teams. “You can use analytics to make money if you find the right things, but that’s not my end goal,” says Frank. “Fantasy baseball is a good way to make me sure I was watching other games (besides the Cubs).” Then he can tell his Twitter followers things like how Juan Soto is 26-of-51 with 18 walks, 5 strikeouts, 4 doubles, 1 triple and 3 home runs with a .510/.634.804 slash line in his last 15 games. “There are so many ways you can enjoy baseball,” says Frank. “That’s the beauty of it.” Using numbers is the way Frank does it.
Mike Monaco, who began his professional baseball broadcast career with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2015, is scheduled to be the play-by-plan man for his first ESPN-produced Major League Baseball broadcast. Monaco, a 2015 University of Notre Dame graduate in Film, Television and Theatre with concentration in TV, is to pair up with Doug Glanville and Tim Kurkjian on the San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks game at 9:40 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 1. It will be Monaco’s first game working with veterans Glanville and Kurkjian. “With those guys as accomplished as they are, it will be my job to feed off them,” says Monaco. “They’re the real stars of the show. “I think the world of them as baseball minds and broadcasters.” Working remotely from his Chicago home studio, Monaco will tell the audience what is happening for Giants-Diamondbacks at Chase Field. “It’s very different. That’s for sure,” says Monaco of not being on-site. “It’s a credit to ESPN that they’ve built this model. It’s amazing to see how they’re able to pull this off on such a large scale.” Monaco and his partners will have access to multiple camera angles and a statistician and work with a production crew. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Monaco had experience calling baseball remotely from the Big Ten Network offices in Chicago. “It’s not as much of a culture shock for me,” says Monaco, who has trained himself to watch various monitors to convey the action. The example he likes to cite is a ball hit into the right-center gap with a runner at second base. “The camera might be showing you the ball landing in the outfield,” says Monaco. “You train our eyes to find another camera that might be showing you the runner.” There’s also the judging fly balls off the bat, which is a skill even for in-person broadcasters. “It’s the more reps you do the more familiarized your mind and your eyes get,” says Monaco. While calling baseball or other sports, Monaco reminds himself that he is part of a team of commentators, graphics people etc., and that fans can see what’s happening on their sets and devices. “It’s on us to accentuate, inform and entertain,” says Monaco. “In radio, you have to describe every pitch and every swing. You paint a picture. “In baseball, you have time to break down swings and pitch sequences and tell stories. We make you care about a guy you’ve never heard of before, the stakes of a live competition and why the participants care so much and why the fans at home care so much.” Hired by ESPN in November 2019, Monaco has called college basketball and college baseball the most for the network with some lacrosse, volleyball and football. At the end of 2019, he filled in on New England Sports Network (NESN) for Boston Red Sox TV broadcasts, working with Jerry Remy and Baseball Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. He is scheduled to be pair with Ellis Burks for road series July 2-4 against the Oakland Athletics and July 5-7 against the Los Angeles Angels. “Growing up a Red Sox fan it’s been special to be a small part of that operation,” says Monaco, who once dressed up for Halloween as Nomar Garciaparra, counts Jason Varitek as his first autograph and graduated from Cohasset (Mass.) High School in 2011. “It’s an honor to fill the chair of (lead play-by-play man) Dave O’Brien.” Having watched and listened to Remy and Eckersley, Monaco came to appreciate their blending of hitting and pitching knowledge. He even knows the language of Eck. “Cheese” is an excellent fastball. “Educated cheese” is a well-located fastball. “Hair” is a fastball with late movement. “Moss” is what grows on a person’s head. “Salad” is stuff thrown by a finesse pitcher. “Going Bridge” is a home run. “Johnson” is an important home run. “I laugh as hard as anyone,” says Monaco of Eckisms. Monaco called Cape Cod Baseball League games in the summer of 2013 and 2014. He is grateful for the opportunity he had with the 2015 South Bend Cubs, where he worked with Chris Hagstrom-Jones. In 2016, he was on the air for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps where his regular partner was Mike Maahs and counts Broadcasting & Media Relations Manager John Nolan, Team President Mike Nutter and Vice President of Marketing & Promotions Michael Limmer among friends in baseball. Monaco did play-by play for Western Michigan University men’s and women’s basketball in 2015-16. His first BTN games came in the winter of 2017-18 and he moved to Chicago more than three years ago. He broadcast for the Triple-A Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox for three seasons. Monaco’s resume also includes productions for the ACC Network and FOX Sports.