"We conceived the idea a couple years ago to have an opening-pitch dinner for our baseball season to try to create interest," said Mainieri about the origin of the event. "We thought if we could introduce our players to a lot of people in the community that these people would become fans of our kids because they are such wonderful kids. They're easy kids to root for."
"Our program was at the point where we were riding a crest and we had a lot of momentum," Mainieri continued. "We had just come off being the No. 1 team in 2001 and created a lot of interest with that. We felt if we could get people to come to the dinner, and become season ticket holders, they would take advantage of having those tickets and come out to the games more frequently. The whole thing has developed as well as I could've hoped for."
The event has had some impressive guest speakers in the past making this a heavily-attended event. "Tommy Lasorda spoke at our first dinner. We had a great night, we had a little over a 1,000 at the dinner, and low and behold we end up going to the College World Series that year."
"Last year we had Jim Hendry as the keynote speaker. Again, we had about 1,000 people, we had a lot of fun, the people in the community had a chance to meet our players and people keep asking about who is going to be the next speaker at the banquet."
The event has been successful so far in not just attendance, but also for its initial purpose--getting people out to Eck Stadium to watch the Irish. "Every night it seems like these people are taking advantage of having those tickets in their hands. Every night we are averaging around 1,100 people at our ballgames. I think the first year we were averaging around 1,300. It really has been a great success for us."
Mainieri said he decided to do something different this year with his quest speaker. "On the heels of Lasorda and Hendry, it was kind of hard. I thought, ‘let's try something a little different.' John Grisham is a guy who is well known as a bestselling author, but he's also a huge baseball guy. He has a baseball complex on his property, and he's very passionate about baseball. I met John a while ago, and he's really been a big Notre Dame baseball fan for the last few years. When I talked to him, he jumped at the opportunity. Between him, and Steve Stanley speaking, I think it's going to be a real interesting dinner for everybody and a lot of fun."
Fans attending the dinner will get the chance to meet and spend time with Notre Dame baseball players and coaches. "We open the doors at 5:45 PM, and so for over an hour, all our players are sitting at tables. The kids can come in and get autographs from all our players. Everyone who attends the dinner receives a media guide as well as a poster (and a season ticket for all home games). After the players are introduced, they go out and sit among the audience so the fans get to sit and eat dinner with them, talk to them, and get to know them."
Mainieri also said this is not your typical banquet dinner. "We try to have a very unique type of dinner. It's a very, very, very casual dinner. I try to create an atmosphere as though they are going to the ballpark. I want them to come in jeans, sweatshirts, baseball hats. It's not a coat-and-tie type of dinner. We have crackerjacks, nachos, hotdogs, and barbeque sandwiches. We have guys walking around throwing peanuts. We want it to be just like a day at the ballpark."
The Irish should have one of their better teams in 2004. The Notre Dame baseball team could find their way back to Omaha, and the College World Series. "I really think we have a chance to do something special this year. I felt that way in 2001, and I felt that way in 2002. I think we are going to be a very deep and talented team, and with Grant Johnson coming back, that will give us two outstanding starting pitchers. I think we will have enough veterans with experience to get us to where we need to be. I'm very excited about this season."
The event will be held in the Joyce Center on February 5th. The dinner will start at 7 PM with the doors opening at 5:45 PM.
The price of admission is $25 for adults, $15 for students and youth under the age of 21, and senior citizens over the age of 55.
Tickets go on sale today, January 5th.
You can order tickets by calling the Notre Dame ticket office at: (574)-631-7356