Shortstop Chris Cates, who stands just 5-foot-3, has earned Defensive MVP and All-Star MVP honors for his play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) and hit a scorching .322, while starting all 60 games in 2006, admitted that he had concerns as news of the Cardinal skipper spread.
"It was hard at first," said Cates, who is entering his fourth year at U of L. "I had my doubts when the coaches left, but I talked to Coach McDonnell on the phone over the summer and I really like his philosophies and his energy for the game, so it made it easier for me because I knew that this team would be in good hands. I could tell that we would have a chance to do some good things."
Highly-touted Chris Dominguez, who will start at third for the Cards this spring, received a visit from McDonnell while playing for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls in the NECBL.
"I wasn't sure when the coaching staff that I thought I was going to be playing for left," said Dominguez, whose league-leading 11 home runs helped his team claim the league title. "I heard from a lot of guys playing summer ball that Coach McDonnell was a great coach. I sat down with Coach McDonnell and we figured things out. He seems like a great guy."
Hailing from Guliver Prep in Miami, Dominguez was rated as the top high school third baseman in the country, and 11th overall by Baseball America, and also earned AFLAC High School All-American team honors. Dominguez missed all but three early season games in 2006 due an injury, but entered fall camp with a hot bat.
Chris Dominguez is hitting
over .600 this fall
The transition to McDonnell's new style of conducting practice and instruction appeared to go smoothly for Dominguez and other younger members of the team, but for a few of the veterans, such as Chris Cates, a 3rd team All-Big East selection as a junior, it meant a completely new way of doing things.
"I think it's been real simple," Dominguez said of the transition. "All of our coaches know a lot about baseball and they've worked with a lot guys that have gone in the first round (of the MLB Draft) and some that went in the next couple of rounds, so I think it's been very easy."
"It's different from what I'm used to, but I think it's more effective because he teaches a lot and really goes into the details," added Cates. "He tells us what he wants and how he expects us to play and that makes things a lot easier."
With the majority of starters returning from last year's team, both are expecting improved play when the season begins in February.
"I'm very excited about next year," Cates continued. "We have every starter coming back expect for Nick Haley and Chris, who was hurt last year, will play at third were Haley was. I expect big things out of us this year. We have a great team and a great coaching staff, so there's no reason why can't at least go to regional."
"I think we're going to be a lot better than we were last year," said Dominguez. "We have a great group of guys and a lot of returning players with some really good new guys, so I think we're going to be great."
The experience of winning 12 consecutive games before falling to 18th-ranked Notre Dame in the conference title game has provided experience and belief that the Cardinal baseball program is on the verge of accomplishing greater feats.
"It showed us that we could win it," Cates said of last season's Big East Conference tournament run. "We didn't really have a great year last year, but we were still one game away from going to regional and winning the Big East Championship, so I think that gives us a lot of confidence coming back this year. Everybody's excited to be back and to get back to the championship game - it's where we expect to be."
The Cardinals will continue their fall practice work outs and intra-squad scrimmages through October 5.