OMAHA, Neb. — He coached Sunday with a small beige card in his back pocket. “An Irish blessing,” Louisville’s Dan McDonnell called it. It was from his dad’s funeral, and this was Father’s Day. Allan J. McDonnell has been gone six years now.
“He was a good Irishman. He enjoyed life. That dude always had a smile on his face,” McDonnell said. “Thinking of my dad today was a reminder for me to enjoy life, have fun, don’t put so much pressure on yourself.
“My dad was here in 2007 with my Uncle Rich. Even though he wasn’t in the best shape, he was here . . . I remember putting that in my back pocket thinking my dad would love this today.”
His son certainly did, and no wonder. A gorgeous afternoon, a full house, and for the Louisville Cardinals, a big swig of success to wash away the bad taste from 2013 and ’14. There were two-and-done those trips here. Never led a game. But Sunday, they scored five runs in the second inning against Texas A&M – keeping the line moving with six singles – and never looked back. It ended 8-4. McDonnell has won two games in the CWS, both on Father's Day.Allan McDonnell would have had a ball. But then, there aren’t many connections in sports more cherished and more time-honored and more worthy of remembrance than sons and fathers and baseball. Which is something every single Cardinal seemed to appeciate Sunday.
They were at the College World Series. And this was Father’s Day. Let’s go around a winning locker room for an Ode to Dads, in a way baseball players would understand.
Outfielder Logan Taylor: “I remember him throwing [batting practice] to me a lot, but it wasn’t just baseball. Every sport, my dad was there. I used to play golf and he’d walk the golf courses with me, even if it was early in the morning. Basketball, he’d make fun of me because I was short and not very good. Football, he’d throw me passes all the time. I guess that’s where I got center field from.
“That’s why we wore the blue [wristbands] today, for Father’s Day. I was wearing this 100 percent. So he sees I’ve got something for him out there.”
Infielder Drew Ellis: “My dad coached me in the 2008 Little League World Series, that whole year sticks out to me. All the sacrifices parents do, all they give up is unfathomable. My dad gave up his work for that summer. Just not him but my mother. I’ll never be able to repay the things they did for me.”
Pitcher Sam Bordner, after slamming the door on Texas A&M with three hitless innings: “My most fondest memories were when we went out to Arizona in an RV and played. It was pretty much a guys’ week. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Infielder Jake Snider, whose father Eric is Louisville’s hitting coach: “I think it’s pretty special, knowing how much I have worked and how much this team has worked, but also how hard my dad has worked. He’s waited over 20 years to be here. I’m sure he won’t show it, but it’s pretty special for him to be here.”
Outfielder Colin Lyman: “This game really helped me spend a lot more time with him. It’s special, how close the game has brought us. It gives me goose bumps even saying that.”
Shortstop Devin Hairston: “One of my favorite memories, it’s not too much of a happy memory, was one day my dad got home from work. I said, 'Dad, let’s go out and throw in the front yard. I just got a new glove.’ We go out, and I’m not throwing the ball anywhere close to him. He said, 'Listen, if you’re going to take time to do this, you’re going to do it right.’ Having that mindset, making sure I’m doing it right, helped me get to where I am. I still have that glove.
“I usually find him before the game starts when we’re in Louisville. We have a little signal. But today, 23,000 people, I wasn’t going to try to find him. But after the game when I was coming off, I gave him the thumbs up and he gave it back to me.”
National player of the year Brendan McKay: “He’d always play catch with me, throwing me batting practice. He was always doing stuff for us. I didn’t get to see him before the game or after the game today. But he’ll be out waiting by the bus, and that’ll be fun.”
And back to the man with the Irish blessing in his pocket, talking about growing up in New York and playing baseball and basketball.
“We weren’t wealthy by any means, but we weren’t poor," McDonnell said. "I got to play on every team. He made sure if I needed cleats or a glove, I had enough.
“My dad would show up in any gym at any time. He might be the only white guy in the gym, in the inner city. He was going to find the game, he was going to get to the gym.
“I’ve bragged at times that I’m the Cal Ripken of coaching. I don’t get sick, I never missed a day coaching at The Citadel or Ole Miss or Louisville. My older brother Michael said, 'You know where you get that from, right? You get that from dad.’ He never missed a day of work [in insurance]. ... He never stayed in bed, he never stayed home sick. I always remember that dude got up and worked. That’s where I got my work ethic from.”
Allan McDonnell missed much of his son’s career, with Dan away in far-flung places. But then Dan took the job at Louisville in 2007, which meant Big East trips to the northeast, where his father would find the ballparks as he once found the gyms. That’s until Parkinson’s took him in 2011.
“He was loving life. He got about four years there,” Dan said. “So I always felt like God put me at a school in the south, but in a northeast conference, where my dad could see me coach.”
McDonnell liked hearing his players had so many memories Sunday.
“It’s the one sport, it’s playing catch, all the hitters have got memories of their dads throwing the BP. It’s good to see they appreciate their dads. We always tell them, you never get to this place on your own.”
Allan McDonnell’s son put the card back in his pocket and headed for the team bus.