University of Louisville baseball coach Dan McDonnell built a great relationship with Louisville-born boxing legend Muhammad Ali and his family during his 10-year tenure with the Cardinals.
Ali, who passed away on Friday night, has been a long-time supporter of the baseball program. His son, Asaad, played for U of L from 2009-12 and Ali and his wife, Lonnie, were frequent visitors to Jim Patterson Stadium.
"He's one of the few guys I would step out of the dugout when I would hear he was in Tom (Jurich's) box and get a glance at him," McDonnell said. "He loved baseball and meant a lot to this program. He really supported this program."
And his family is expected to continue that legacy.
McDonnell said after a 15-3 win over Ohio State on Saturday night that he received a text message from someone sharing a message from Lonnie Ali to the U of L team after her husband's passing on Friday.
"Lonnie had somebody text me to make sure we knew they were thinking about us," McDonnell said. "She said they were still planning to go to Omaha. So, I shared that story with the players."
McDonnell said he had talked with Lonnie Ali several times during the season and the Ali family was planning on a trip to Omaha is the Cardinals made it to the College World Series this season.
"As many were, they were upset we didn't make it last year," McDonnell said. "They were planning on meeting us out there."
McDonnell visited with Asaad and Lonnie just last week while they were attending the Cards’ games at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Durham, N.C. Last fall, the Ali's gave half of Muhammad’s $100,000 prize for winning U of L’s Grawemeyer Spirit Award to the school’s athletic scholarship fund to begin the Muhammad Ali Leadership Baseball Scholarship.
U of L senior Danny Rosenbaum was the first recipient.
McDonnell said Ali "meant a lot" to the entire U of L community and noted he spoke to his team prior to the game about Ali.
"I obviously knew he was The Greatest," McDonnell said. "But I didn't realize how tied in he was to the University until I got here. And then in the Orange Bowl (2007) we played Wake Forest and they walked out Arnold Palmer and we answered with Muhammad Ali.
"I felt pretty good. I like Arnie, don't get me wrong but I felt like we had the upper hand there."