OMAHA, Neb. — Notre Dame keeps shaking down the thunder from the sky, the way the fight song says, only that’s supposed to be about football. But there is magic in Irish baseball right now, even more vivid after they beat Texas 7-3 Friday night in the College World Series. To understand, consider the past two days of the pitcher with three college degrees.
Thursday . . .
John Michael Bertrand is standing on the Charles Schwab Field suite level, aiming his cell phone camera at the diamond below and snapping pictures of his own personal field of dreams. He would be down there the next night, facing Texas.
It is a moment to reflect on the road to this moment. “Everyone has their own journey to get here,” he begins. “You look at mine. I started out as a walk-on at Furman University and I got cut my freshman year. There’s probably not a lot of stories where you get that and five years later you’re playing in Omaha.”
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Bertrand is among the Notre Dame geezers, one of five graduate students who would be starting the next night against Texas. More than that, he would be going to the mound as an Academic All-American. He has two master’s degrees to go with his undergraduate diploma. In 2021, when the Irish returned from Starkville and the agonizing super regional loss to Mississippi State, he had to start his accelerated MBA program the next morning. He took 18 credit hours last summer.
So he’s up to challenges, and here comes another one; facing Texas to begin Notre Dame’s first College World Series in 20 years. Thursday is to savor the opportunity. The next evening would be very different.
“When tomorrow comes around, it’s a business trip. It’s something we have to be able to lock in and focus on,” he says. “As amazing as the park is and the field is, that mound is still 60 feet, six inches away. Every time you get to that basepath it’s 90 feet and then turn left.
“I think nerves are a good thing because it shows you care. I talk about this with my little brother quite often. I think I’ll always get nervous about a game the night before. The day I don’t get nervous is the day maybe I should stop playing.”
He would be turning off his phone Thursday night and shunning his social apps. He would say his prayers and then go to sleep.
“As soon as I get the ball in my hand tomorrow, there’s no nerves. It’s just game time.”
Friday . . .
Thirty hours later, the deed is done. The Irish have beaten Texas, continuing the surge that had carried them through Knoxville and the crosshairs of No. 1 Tennessee in the super regional. Bertrand pitches into the sixth. His fastball does not make the radar gun smoke, but rather he keeps the Longhorn bats under control with precision.
“He was more like a pitchability guy, not really have a lot of velo to beat us,” Texas’ Dylan Campbell will say afterward, “We just couldn’t really figure him out.”
The Notre Dame lineup has done the rest with relentless efficiency — two solo home runs and nine singles. A hit-and-run here, an extra base there, a squeeze bunt. “I thought all the variety off our offense was on display today,” coach Link Jarrett says. “When we’re playing well, that’s what we do.” To finish off the Longhorns, Jarrett calls freshman Jack Findlay to retire the last seven batters.
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Notre Dame had not won a game in Omaha in 20 years. That was over Rice. The last Irish win before that was over Texas — in 1957. This was Notre Dame’s fourth victory all-time in the College World Series. Texas has won 88.
But after whacking Tennessee and then beating the Longhorns, it is getting very hard not to take the Irish seriously as genuine championship contenders. “We try not to pay too much attention to the outside noise,” says second baseman Jared Miller, who puts the Irish in front to stay with a first-inning home run. It is a team that plays with the wisdom of its years, which is why Jarrett has decided there is only one thing for him to do at this point.
“Stay out of their way. Just let them go. That’s the beauty of it.”
Indeed, there are several appealing features of this Notre Dame epic, and Friday shows one of them — when that double master’s degree pitcher walks off the mound in the sixth inning after being relieved and shares his joy with the crowd. From being told he wasn’t good enough for Division I to hearing the cheers of Omaha, that's a journey of baseball light years.
“It means everything,” Bertrand says about the big night afterward. “It was unreal. I looked up and could see my brothers holding up some big heads of me. You want baseball to be fun. The time that it’s not fun anymore is the time you should probably hang it up.”
But there is no thought of hanging anything up on Friday night in Omaha. On the contrary, Notre Dame looks as if it is just beginning.