Emotions, memories await as Link Jarrett returns for ACC baseball series at Notre Dame
It has the makings of an itinerary like no other this weekend for Florida State baseball coach Link Jarrett.
Thursday practice before charter flight to South Bend. Check.
Bus to Eck Stadium on Friday for opener of three-game Atlantic Coast Conference series against Notre Dame. Check.
Return to hotel and team dinner. Check.
Breakfast and scout session. Check.
Solo trip to Martin’s Heritage Square. Wait ... what?
Prior to a media gathering last summer in the Notre Dame baseball lounge, Jarrett, then the Irish head coach, tossed his car’s key fob onto a table. The key ring also contained a Martin’s Advantage Card bar code. Area residents who know of Martin’s know that drill — buy a few items and scan the bar code. It gets you a couple bucks off this or that and also shaves some cents off your next fill-up at a Martin’s gas station.
It was weird to imagine Jarrett, in the middle of a magical three-year run at Notre Dame, taking time after road trips to swing by Martin’s at Heritage for a gallon of milk or a pound of lunch meat or any other item that his wife, Jennifer, might ask him to bring home.
He would. If there was a reason to hit Martin’s, Jarrett would find it. Then hit it. He was reminded of his preference for the place earlier this week as he prepared for a series at Eck for the first time as the visiting head coach.
Noie:When Notre Dame needed to deliver in College World Series, it ran out of answers
“If I could just roll through there …,” Jarrett joked by phone from the baseball offices at Florida State. “I’m thinking about putting on a disguise and just walking around there. Why is Martin’s so great? Everything about it is.
“I love Martin’s.”
Only recently did Jarrett divorce the bar code from his fob. He still has the unlimited car wash sticker for Mike’s, a long flyball from his Martin’s, on a corner of his windshield. He loved Martin’s. He loved Mike’s. He loved coaching the kind of kids he coached at Notre Dame, the kind who stared down all obstacles — real or imagined — and took the program on an improbable rocket ride.
Jarrett loved his time in Michiana, but he loved home more.
When word broke last June that Florida State coach Mike Martin Jr., was out after three seasons, Jarrett became the easy choice to return home to Tallahassee. The 51-year-old Jarrett graduated in 1994 from Florida State. A former college shortstop, he helped the Seminoles go to three College World Series. His parents live in Tallahassee. His wife’s parents live in Tallahassee.
“To have the ability to help support them, that was one of the logical reasons to leave,” said Jarrett, who was signed at Notre Dame through 2026. “That gives you comfort. That gives them comfort. Being from here, knowing so many people around the area and how supportive they’ve been, it’s a very unique feeling.”
Last seen in an Irish uniform, Jarrett was exiting the bowels of Omaha’s Charles Schwab Field after Notre Dame was eliminated by Texas A&M in the 2022 College World Series. He held a brief presser, shook hands with three local writers who had made the trip, took a quick left, then another left through the VIP/player entrance and out into the heat and humidity of a Nebraska afternoon in late June.
Notre Dame baseball:Shawn Stiffler is done being the 'new guy.' Now it's time to win
Like that, he was gone, a chapter in his coaching life closed.
Forty-eight hours later, he was in Tallahassee. Twenty-four hours after that, he was introduced as the Florida State head coach. Whirlwind doesn’t begin to describe the weeks that followed.
For six months, Jarett seldom was stationary. He was out recruiting. Building a culture. Hiring a staff. Finding a house. Moving. Overseeing fall workouts. Managing expectations. Managing baseball. Understanding that this first season would be a struggle.
Days and weeks and months melted away. The rest of that summer and all of fall were blurs. Finally, in late December, when he and Jennifer were settled in their home and their adult children visited, Jarrett could exhale.
“That was the first time when you were like, ‘OK, we can recalibrate,’” he said. “It was after the fall semester and Christmastime before things settled a little bit and you could start to assess where you could go.”
The right man at the right time at the right place
Nowhere. That’s where Notre Dame baseball was going before Jarrett was hired after seven seasons at North Carolina Greensboro. The program wasn’t left for dead, it was just dead. Losers. A lost cause. Any dubious description fits. The Eck was an outpost of apathy. Jarrett arrived and kick-started a run to heights that few around Notre Dame, which had only one winning season and one trip to the NCAA tournament the previous five years, thought were reachable.
Everything that was supposed to be impossible because of the weather and the travel and the academics and the whatever else, Jarrett helped the Irish believe was possible. The Irish were determined to make sure college baseball mattered on a campus where for so long, it didn’t. For three years, it did.
“They played beautiful baseball,” Jarrett said. “I look at all that and how challenging it was and how fruitful it became at the end.”
When it clicked, just buckle up, settle in and enjoy the ride. It was going to be special. That program was going places. You could see it. You could sense it.
The three-year run of 86-32 under Jarrett was the second-best win percentage (.728) in the nation. The Irish went an ACC best 44-21. His second year, when the pandemic mandated that mostly league games be played, the Irish never lost two straight, never lost a series and finished a staggering 25-10 in the ACC. They owned that league.
Notre Dame went to a super-regional in 2021 and nearly upset Mississippi State. In 2022, it stunningly wasn’t selected to host a regional and was sent to Statesboro, Georgia. There, the Irish dressed and prepped in an abandoned Mexican restaurant near the ballpark. It still won the regional.
Noie:From something to nothing as pandemic wipes out 2020 season for Notre Dame baseball
Notre Dame went to a super-regional for a second straight season for the first time in school history. It stared down a team (Tennessee) that many figured wouldn’t be beaten but then, was as Notre Dame reached Omaha for the first time since 2002.
The Irish believed they belonged. The Irish played championship-caliber baseball. The two-time national coach of the year made sure of it. Every move he made turned to gold.
“What appeared to be the most difficult and challenging post-season landscape that you could have as a college team became the most memorable part we had ever experienced,” Jarrett said of last summer’s run. “You don’t see that as you embark on that journey, but when the dust settles and I look back at it, and I think of going back up there, those are some of the things that stick with you.”
They stick, and that’s awesome. Jarrett might’ve gone only one direction for this weekend’s return to town — that it’s strictly about the here and now and not then. About only Florida State (14-25) and how to get a few critical league wins and figure a way to extend the program’s staggering streak of 44 straight seasons in the NCAA tournament. How to turn around a season that started 11-2 but has since gone a numbing 3-23 with the Seminoles stuck in last place in the league at 5-16.
Jarrett knows it can’t just be about the Seminoles this weekend. To try and make it so would be a disservice to what Notre Dame did in those three seasons. He wants to think of all the struggles and the successes during his time on that campus.
Jarrett didn’t know what emotions would stir when the Seminoles’ charter landed Thursday or when the bus pulled up to Eck Stadium on Friday afternoon, but he knows not to suppress a single feeling about 2020 or 2021 or 2022. He could smile. He could cry.
This weekend is the second time Jarrett has been back on campus for a sporting event since last summer. In November, the baseball team received their CWS rings in a ceremony at Compton Arena. They were recognized early during the Boston College football game — before the blizzard.
That will be nothing compared to Jarrett stepping back into Eck for the three games this weekend. The weather won’t be great. The temperatures won’t be warm. The Irish (23-15) are rolling. It will all feel so familiar.
“Driving back on that campus, the totality of what happened over that three-year period, that will hit me,” Jarrett said. “Really, I don’t know if I can properly express what that is going to be like. It’s hard to predict what the feelings will be. I want to remember the good moments and how that evolved for the program and personally.
“Those are very good memories. You need to hang on to those because they’re special.”
Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.