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Irish Belong!!

<P>Baseball today is about 251 million-dollar contracts. America's pastime has the biggest story of the day being "did Estes hit Clemens?" It's about union talks and threats of walkouts or stoppages. It was refreshing to see pure baseball again today. The hero wasn't a 250 million dollar ego. He was just a regular guy like you or me. </P>

Paul Mainieri doesn't have the best talent in college baseball. He doesn't have the "ace" that shuts down the opposition. He doesn't have the "bomber" that crushes balls into the outfield seats. He does have a 5-7 155 pound MONSTER in Steve Stanley. The headlines will read "Stavisky Saves Irish" tomorrow. Truth be known, it was Steve Stanley that saved Notre Dame today.

College baseball analysts have not given Mainieri's team much of a chance. They don't hit very well and many can't believe that two freshman can lead this team to the championship. They might be right but what this team has accomplished is quite impressive. This team beat the then #1 team in FSU twice in Tallahassee. They lost a 4-3 game to Stanford who many feel will win the College World Series. They just beat the team that many people voted #1 going into the College World Series.

On Monday, Steve Stanley wowed the crowd with his heroics. His catch to save a potential 5-2 deficit was hall-of-fame material. He laid out for a ball that he just missed and made many plays look routine. His defense saved this Irish baseball team.

Steve was having a very un-Stanley day at the plate. He was 0-4 heading into his final at-bat. He took his team, as he has done so many times before and carried them on his 5-7 155 pound frame and willed them to victory. He took a 3-2 count and hit a one-out triple that gave this team the spark they needed and finally made this team believe they belonged in this series. In typical leader fashion, as soon as he popped up from his slide, he yelled into his dugout "let's go" and those that have respected his efforts for many years took notice.

Steve Sollmann stepped up with a single straight up the middle and Brian Stavisky took a 1-2 pitch deep into the right-field bleachers to win the game. I don't want to diminish the Stavisky home run. It was the difference in the game but I don't believe this team felt they belonged with the baseball elite until their leader took that 3-2 pitch and dropped it into right-center for a triple.

I think a team takes on the character of their leadership. The head coach has a lot to do with the character of the team but I do think that the actual leaders on the team influence the play of any team. It is no coincidence that this team continues to win and never count themselves out of any game because of the leadership of Stanley.

Steve Stanley would not get drafted on his stature alone. He was a second-round pick because he has heart. He has more heart and wants to win more than anyone. That attitude has infected this team and I think they finally believe they belong with the baseball elite.

This team might very well lose their next game against either Texas or Stanford. What Mainieri's team accomplished today showed the rest of the baseball world that this team might not be the most talented but they will fight until all 27 outs are final. That attitude is contagious and will be the cornerstone of this team for many years to come.

A coach hopes he can come across one Steve Stanley in a lifetime. One guy who refuses to lose and will sacrifice anything to lead his team to victory. I am not a surprised that coach Mainieri speaks so highly of Stanley. Here is a kid that isn't your typical baseball hero. He is a second-round pick because he has more desire than anyone else on the field. In the future following Notre Dame baseball, I won't care about how many homeruns X recruit has hit or how many strikeouts he has. I just want to know how many Steve Stanley's he signed.

It all became clear watching his Dad when Steve hit that triple. I quickly found out where the desire, determination and competitiveness came from. If his Dad could have dog-piled his son at that moment, nobody would have gotten to Steve before he did. I am not lucky enough to be a Dad yet. I hope if I am ever that lucky, my son idolizes Steve Stanley or someone just like him. While many kids are in the mall right now looking for a Barry Bonds jersey, I hope that many parents are on the phone calling Notre Dame to find out how you can get a Steve Stanley #2.

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