McDonnell again raises expectations for UofL baseball

Former UofL baseball players Will Smith, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Brendon McKay, of the Tampa Bay Rays, shared their experiences (Mike DeZarn photos)

By Barbara Springer

Seven words.

“Grass. Track. Wall.”
“That ball is gone!”

Words from play-by-play announcer Sean Moth that get University of Louisville baseball fans on their feet, roaring. Words that inspire and challenge baseball players to strive even harder. Words to drive this team all the way to Omaha.

Ranked number one by D1 baseball, this 2020 team begins competition February 14 following a 51-18 record last season. The 2019 team made it to the semifinals of the College World Series, their fifth trip in Coach Dan McDonnell’s 13 seasons here. He begins this season with four seniors to lead a team heavy with freshmen and sophomores.

Junior pitcher Adam Elliott was awarded the Muhammad Ali Leadership Scholarship by Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali (Mike DeZarn photo).

Last year’s team had its highest final ranking in program history, with a No. 3 ranking, and the winningest program in all of Division 1 baseball. Moreover, the players posted the most conference wins since 2015 among Power 5 programs. Fifteen former Cards have made Major League debuts since 2014.

Coach McDonnell announced during the team’s Leadoff Dinner Friday evening that the motivational theme this season is “Somewhat Higher.” Since August, the fall semester GPA was a record 3.35, with 25 hours of community service per athlete. The players enjoyed a team-building trip to the Dominican Republic last fall, stretching themselves as they worked with children in teaching and fun, as well as community service. Coach Mac recalled the trip, saying it “opens your heart and lights a flame. Keep it lit and serve in Louisville.”

Al Greener, the UofL Pep Band Director who plays the organ at games, was doing his thing.

Just a few years ago, at a luncheon, McDonnell spoke to the challenges of luring quality players to Louisville, where the season may very well begin on a cold and rainy day. Or with snow falling. When the stands might be fairly empty on a weekday night. But, somehow, he has found a way to convince prospects to take a chance, to challenge themselves.

Maybe he has succeeded because of the facilities, which have undergone dramatic transformations in the last few years. Maybe the attraction is the coaching staff, which has remained very stable.

Maybe recruits and their parents want to be a part of the program’s notable successes. Maybe even the caliber of the opponents is the attraction.

Whatever, he has succeeded, and with all the pageantry and fanfare and video excitement of the evening plus the presence of former players and current pros, the coaching staff pulled out all the stops and brought the legendary Brendan McKay and Will Smith out. Both have their faces and numbers on that outfield wall at Jim Patterson Stadium.

McKay made his big league debut last June on the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays, while Smith took his position behind the plate in May for the LA Dodgers. The audience enjoyed listening to their conversational Q&A with emcee Moth for 30 minutes.

It is a given that fans in the audience Friday night will show up at Patterson Stadium, even for a cold February or March game, waiting, no, expecting to hear GRASS. TRACK. WALL. THAT BALL IS GONE!

Seven words.

Omaha Bound