Irish Adapting Well to New Staff

Sometimes change can be a good thing. Sometimes when one is walking on the same path they tend to get complacent. Sometimes, people just need a new chance. The hiring of Dave Schrage as Notre Dame's next baseball coach offers a change and new hope for many on the Irish baseball team.

Not many expected former head coach Paul Mainieri to leave at the end of the 2006 season, and it came as a surprise to most on the Irish baseball team.

"You see it through the press, that Mainieri was looking at LSU, but when it actually happens it's kind of a shock," Irish senior pitcher/infielder Mike Dury said. "But Boo Corrigan and Kevin White were great. You just knew they were going to get the best guy out there. I don't think we could be happier about it."

Dury, who doubles as a top reliever and first baseman for the Irish, was also part of a leadership committee who were asked to give some input on the candidates to replace Mainieri.

"I was honored for Boo Corrigan to give me a call and I was eager, obviously, to get a new coach," he said. "We looked a lot of good candidates and they gave us three. By far and away Coach Shrage was the best guy. We're really excited about it. He's been great, and he's going to take this program to the next level where it needs to be."

And Dury probably welcomes the change. Dury has been kind of a jack-of-all-trades for the Irish, as a reliable lefty reliever, and an occasional designated hitter and first baseman. But his unselfishness probably has been a hindrance to his development as player, especially as a hitter.

"In the past I was trying to do what's best for the team,' the Indianapolis, Ind. native said. "I was coming out of the bullpen and helping out when I could. I think now they're going to put a little bit more on me with the (bat). I think I'm going to play a lot more first base than I have in the past. Power is one thing we're missing and I'm hoping I can be that guy.

"Over the summer I played first base a lot and I played in the outfield. It's something I've done all my life. The first couple of days were a little shaky, but I'm definitely now comfortable again."

"That's what's been the problem in the past," Dury said of his lack of at-bats hurting his development as a hitter. "You just get an at-bat here and an at-bat there. You can't really find your swing that way. It's hard to get into a rhythm. This past summer I was able to hit every day and I got about 100 at-bats and in the fall. I've been hitting every day. I'm finally more comfortable up there. I think just being able to hit every day has made a huge difference."

Another player who will be counted on heavily this season is pitcher Wade Korpi. The junior lefthander will likely be the rock and ace of Notre Dame's pitching this season. Korpi admitted he was somewhat nervous when he heard there would be a coaching change.

"You definitely think about it a little bit, but getting to know this coaching staff, we'll definitely be fine," Korpi said. "You've got to adjust, but we're all very excited about this staff. I think once we all heard their philosophy about the game, we all got really excited about it."

"It's been great," Korpi said of fall baseball under Schrage's leadership. "I'm really excited to carry this into the season. I really like their philosophy. They like the put the pressure on the other team. Force the action is what they like to preach and I really like that."

The Lake Worth, Fla. native says there hasn't been much of a change for him in dealing with a different pitching coach in Sherad Clinkscale.

"My mechanics are pretty good," Korpi said. "They really don't say anything to me about that. I guess the only change for me is getting the mindset of the two coaches on attacking hitters. That's the difference between the two. They're pretty similar in what they want to do.

"I'm an established pitcher here, so it's really more about continuing on where I left off."

While most expect Korpi to be the ace after finishing 2006 with a 7-2 record and a 2.00 ERA, the top junior certainly doesn't expect the job to be handed to him.

"It's not certain that I'll be the top guy," he said when asked what his role as the ace would mean. "I still have to go out there and prove myself. We have a lot of guys pitching well right now. Everyone has a clean slate, and I've got to continue to prove myself. I don't feel any pressure. I've just got to keep doing my job."

Senior catcher Sean Gaston has been around for quite some time and the Brownsburg, Ind. native says that the coaching change has made some veteran players step up and take notice.

"For the older guys you get kind of used to how things are," Gaston said. "To have a change is almost like starting over. It's kind of like we're freshmen again, but that's a good thing. You pay attention and it makes it more exciting. You get that fire to play because you're out to prove that you deserve the job.

"I think this has been the best fall I've seen in the four years I've been here. We, as a whole team, have played better. You could see that in week one. I think it's nice to know that everyone is on an equal playing ground. The older guys just can't sit back and breeze their way through the fall. Guys that had been established knew that their jobs were safe in the past. This year you have to go out and earn your spot again and it makes you better."

One of the more important jobs Gaston will have will be to help develop some sophomore pitching talent that will be relied on heavily this season. Pitchers like Brett Graffey, Sam Elam and David Phelps have to develop as starters for the Irish this season.

"The sophomore pitchers have really come through this fall," Gaston said. "You could always tell they had the talent. They've always had the ability to get guys out, but it was a question of confidence, I think, for a lot of them.

"Some had rough starts, if you go back to last spring. I know (Dave Phelps) and (Sam) Elam probably didn't have the spring they'd like, but with a new staff, they're not afraid of what they'll be remembered for this past spring, and they've come out and really competed and they've pitched very well. They've had a lot more confidence and it's really showed this fall. I think all three have really stepped up this fall."

Change can sometimes be a great thing, as it appears to be the with Irish football team. Dury says he sees a similar attitude change with the baseball team.

"It just seems like this fall has gone much smoother," he said. "I really think a lot of guys like myself see a new opportunity and are trying to grab it. We're all eager to play, and it's been great that Coach Shrage has given us all that opportunity. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this year."


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