ND baseball notebook: Notre Dame to test its art of non-verbal communication
Even though such measures weren’t required of the Notre Dame baseball team for most of this year, the Irish have prepared all along for precisely the ear-splitting atmosphere they’ll encounter this weekend at the Starkville Super Regional.
Despite playing in the mostly empty ballparks that accompanied the regular season while the pandemic counted down, coach Link Jarrett’s club used primarily non-verbal forms of communication during its games.
Now the 10th-seeded Irish (33-11) are shooting for the payoff to that habit when they face No. 7 Mississippi State (43-15) in a best-of-three series starting Saturday afternoon at the Bulldogs’ Dudy Noble Field — widely considered the loudest college park in the country.
“We’ve talked about it all year,” Jarrett said Friday evening of eventually landing some place where simply speaking to each other as a form of on-field communication would not be reliable.
“It’s not gonna happen,” Jarrett said of even the shortstop and second baseman, for example, exchanging words without the possibility of confusion. “(Our players) understand it. Now, executing it in this setting for the first time, that’s where the rubber meets the road, but we’ve refreshed, prepared, worked on it, and we’re gonna find out if it works.”
One situation in which verbals are often essential is calling out a fly ball that could belong to either an infielder or outfielder, but the Irish have even addressed that.
Outfielders and infielders call for the ball in different manners so that it “doesn’t overlap and blend,” according to Jarrett.
As for less urgent communication, all forms from the dugout are “non-verbal stuff,” the coach said.
Hitters have even practiced being sure they’re not in the box when baserunners are checking the grids on their wristbands for situational cues.
ND even passes on its catchers wearing earpieces, which are allowed by NCAA rules for getting instructions from the dugout, because there are too many “concerns about malfunction,” per Jarrett.
“The layers to what we do are pretty deep,” Jarrett acknowledged, and the habits are “just so ingrained in our system.”
Even with that part of countering Dudy Noble’s noisy surroundings possibly covered, there are other challenging aspects to the atmosphere as well.
Irish players sounded Friday like they’re ready to embrace them.
“I think it’s awesome,” senior outfielder Ryan Cole said of the opportunity. “It’s a dream playing at a field like this, in this environment. I think we’re just gonna go out there and try to have fun and play our game. If anything, don’t let the fans affect you. Pretend like they’re rooting for you.”
ND standout reliever Tanner Kohlhepp made the rounds to several of the SEC’s celebrated venues two years ago when he played for Tennessee as a freshman, although the Volunteers did not happen to visit Mississippi State that season.
“I don’t know how much I can help, because you’ve gotta see it, you gotta experience it,” Kohlhepp said of what he has shared with teammates, “but from what I’ve been able to tell them, they love baseball down here. Baseball’s a big part of Southern culture. You just gotta be ready for anything, whether it’s fans yelling at you, the energy of the stadium … that’s kind of a fun part of being in this environment.”
A Jarrett jumble
These are chaotic times for the Jarrett family, maybe most of all for the Jarretts who aren’t on the field.
Not only is second-year Irish coach Link Jarrett’s team getting ready for Notre Dame’s first super regional appearance since 2002, but his and wife Jennifer’s son, J.T., is playing for North Carolina State in the Wolfpack’s first super regional since 2013.
Visiting N.C. State’s up against No. 1-seeded Arkansas at Fayetteville, and lost Friday night’s opening game in that best-of-three series.
“Man, to think after all the years and games and travel tournaments and where’s he gonna go to school, and is he gonna get to play, is he gonna start, and to think now you’re down to 16 teams and we’re two of them, it’s crazy,” Link Jarrett said Friday evening just before his son’s contest was beginning.
J.T., a second baseman and fourth-year regular, has started all 51 games for the Pack this season. He carried a .990 fielding percentage into Friday’s contest with just two errors on the season and was batting .251.
Link Jarrett said he’s thankful that the super regional involving J.T. started a night ahead of his own team’s first game, so he could at least catch that contest on TV, and so Jennifer and daughter Dawson could have at least “a fighting chance” to see some of both super regionals.
Not that it’s going to be easy, either.
Link Jarrett said his wife flew with the team to Starkville on Thursday, rented a car and left around 6 a.m. Friday for the approximately 490-mile, 8.5-hour drive to Fayetteville.
“I don’t know what to tell her to do, and I’m not going to say a word to her,” Jarrett said of which games his wife might opt for going forward. “She’s going to have to figure that out.”
Game 1 of the ND-Mississippi State series is at 2 p.m. ET Saturday, while Game 2 of the Wolfpack-Arkansas matchup starts at 3 p.m.
Game 2 of the Irish against the Bulldogs is at 6 p.m. Sunday, exactly the same time as the if-necessary Game 3 for N.C. State and the Razorbacks.
ND’s third game, if necessary, is at 7 p.m. Monday.
Notre Dame (33-11) vs. Mississippi State (43-15) 2 p.m. ET, ESPN.
Notre Dame vs. Mississippi State, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2 or ESPNU
Notre Dame vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET (if necessary), ESPN2 or ESPNU