There's a conditioning exercise the Michigan baseball team does every Wednesday during the offseason.
The drill, which involves timed runs around the track, is "very, very challenging," according to first baseman Jimmy Kerr. It forces the Wolverines to work on their mental toughness.
"It's something that when you look at it, you don't think you can do it," Kerr said at Ray Fisher Stadium on Tuesday. "While you're doing it, you want to quit because it's so hard. You have it in you to finish it."
.@umichbaseball leaves for the 𝐂𝐨𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐠𝐞 𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝 𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬 today!— Michigan Athletics 〽️ (@UMichAthletics) June 12, 2019
Stop by Ray Fisher Stadium at 11:45 A.M. to help send them off. #GoBlue | #RoadToOmaha pic.twitter.com/OtIfVs6o53
Time and time again this postseason, Michigan has found itself on the ropes and somehow escaped. The ability to persevere, in addition to the wealth of talent on the roster, has been a defining trait of this team.
And each time the Wolverines find themselves in a tough spot, they're able to draw upon those grueling conditioning exercises. It's why Kerr immediately thought of that when asked about how Michigan learned to overcome adversity.
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This isn't just an ordinary drill, though. It's also a reminder of where Michigan coach Erik Bakich came from.
The Wolverines call these conditioning tests "Keith LeClair 300s." They are named after Bakich's former coach at East Carolina, Keith LeClair, who passed away in 2006 from ALS -- commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
LeClair, who coached the Pirates from 1998-2002, shaped the path of his former pupil's life and career.
"I got into coaching because I made a promise to Coach LeClair that myself and my teammates, we would continue his inspiration and continue his legacy and get to Omaha for him, because he never got to go," said Bakich, who played for LeClair in 1999 and 2000.
Opening Celebration Day (Friday, June 14) Team Practice Times. Practice are free and open to the public! pic.twitter.com/HQHyTya39O— College World Series of Omaha (@CWSOmaha) June 11, 2019
Bakich -- currently the youngest coach of a major Division I program -- spends every day trying to pass down what he learned from his former coach. He wants every player at Michigan to experience the moments of pure excitement and joy that he had during his playing days at East Carolina. He wants every player to develop the same mental toughness that LeClair used to preach.
That's why LeClair's influence is felt within the dugout "every day."
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"(LeClair) always put the target on the layers and the experience that they had," Bakich said. "He pushed us and he was demanding, but the scoreboard took care of itself. The championships took care of themselves."
When Michigan beat No. 1 seed UCLA in the Super Regional on Sunday night to advance to the College World Series, Bakich and assistant head coach Nick Schnabel -- who played alongside Bakich at East Carolina -- shared a moment together.
They understood that a promise to their former coach to reach Omaha had been fulfilled.
"We didn't even have to say anything," Bakich said. "We just looked at each other and gave each other a hug. I think we all know he's looking down and watching over and very proud."
THE OMAHA 8#CWS pic.twitter.com/N41YWA5n4c— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) June 10, 2019
The Wolverines know LeClair's story. They understand the message of the "Keith LeClair 300s" -- to keep pushing, no matter what adversity comes their way.
"That's something everybody thinks back to," Kerr said. "If we can do that, then we can play a fun game on a field."
It's why Bakich is so proud of this particular team. Time after time, the Wolverines have shown the ability to "get back up when they've fallen."
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Less than a month ago, U-M was down to its last strike in an elimination game against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament. A loss would've ended the team's season and most likely any hopes for a NCAA tournament bid.
The Wolverines staved off defeat and ripped off two more wins, eventually becoming one of the last four teams to make it into the field of 64.
THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WEST! #GoBlue#RoadToOmaha pic.twitter.com/V3T3vIYOSu— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) June 11, 2019
Then, in the NCAA regional, Michigan blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning against Creighton. The next day, they stamped their tickets to the Super Regional by demolishing the Blue Jays, 17-6.
And then this past weekend, the Wolverines lost to the top-seeded Bruins in Game 2 of the Super Regional, 4-3, in 12 innings after making five errors and allowing 10 walks.
Just like before, Michigan picked itself up off the mat. And won, 4-2, on Sunday night to advance to Omaha for the first time in 35 years.
Through it all, the Wolverines fell back on those offseason conditioning drills.
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"Going through experiences like that in the fall just make it a lot easier during the season," Kerr said. "Even when you don't think you're going to make it, we don't win a Big Ten championship and we lose the first game of the Big Ten tournament, it's like, you know what, we don't really have a choice. We have to get over it and play our best."
LeClair's wife and daughter will be in Omaha. Bakich plans to see them. To give them a hug. And then to continue carrying on his former coach's legacy.
"If Coach LeClair was here, he would tell me to stop talking about him and make it about the kids," Bakich said. "That's what you want as a coach. You're chasing seeing that moment of pure joy and celebratory moments of your teams and players and your kids. In total excitement. In dog piles. In huge moments. And I told them that. That's what I love. I love watching them compete. I love watching them celebrate with scoring a big run or getting fired up when we escape a big jam.
"Even when we get punched in the mouth, I love watching them get up off the mat every single time. And I just want to see them have those moments where there is that pure excitement and that pure joy, and to see their smiling faces and to see those expressions that you can only get by doing what we did. Those are just burned into my memories. Those are my paychecks. Those are the things that I'll value and treasure the most, and those are the things that Coach LeClair got from the culture that he built and the teams that he had."
This article is written by Orion Sang from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.