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All Grown Up (ND Baseball Reunion; Entry #1)

Oct 20, 2012, 6:17 PM EDT

Notre Dame’s 2002 College World Series team had a five-year reunion, well, five years ago – but this weekend the 10-year reunion has a distinctly different feel … in large part due to the fact that many of the team members are married and brought their young children to campus with them.

(Be sure to check out the tribute to Notre Dame’s 1957 and 2002 CWS teams that appeared in the ND-BYU football program, CLICK HERE for the online version.)

• One player who does not have children yet is Kris Billmaier, but of course he was married last weekend. Billmaier, still residing in his native Seattle area, was one of the final arrivals to the reunion – entering into the 574 area code earlier this morning with his new bride (a Gonzaga alum) tagging along for her first Notre Dame experience. Two of Billmaier’s classmates at Notre Dame, Ryan Kalita and J.P. Gagne, were part of the wedding party before seeing their newly-wed friend a few days later back at ND.

Steve Stanley always was a tremendous accumulator of stats, and our “exit polls” this weekend indicate that he also may be the leader among the 2002 ND baseball players when it comes to current family size. Most ND baseball fans know that Stanley married his high school sweetheart and the couple currently resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. Stanley – originally from the Columbus, Ohio, area – got a chuckle out of his children’s reaction to it being “really cold” today at Notre Dame (low-50s). As a a player, he and his ND teammates always were amused when visiting players from warmer climates would be bundled up for a brisk spring day at Eck Stadium. “My own kids were whining today about the cold just like the Miami players did when we played them,” joked Stanley.

Paul O’Toole‘s kids have a clear zest for life and were easily identified as part of the O’Toole clan. During the course of our video interviews conducted over the past two days, the visit with O’Toole was among the favorites for a number of reasons. The former Irish catcher provided tremendous recall from certain key pitching moments during that historic 2002 season – including Grant Johnson‘s 1-hitter in the NCAA regional vs. South Alabama, Chris Niesel‘s Super-Regional win at Florida State that sent ND on to the CWS, and closer Gagne striking out the side to end that epic win at FSU.

Another highlight of the O’Toole interview was seeing his rough edges clearly softened over the past decade by marriage, fatherhood and everyday “real-world” responsibilities … but he also still has that trademark sarcastic, wise-cracking side to him. The interview was an enjoyable all-around 10 minutes or so.

• Steve Sollmann did not have to travel far to attend the reunion events, as he currently works at Notre Dame counseling student-athletes via the Academic Services Office. Great to see that Sollmann, along with Stanley and Andrew Bushey, married their longtime sweethearts who were regulars at Eck Stadium during their college days. Sollmann and Bushey joined Stanley, O’Toole, Joe Thaman and Matt Laird in showcasing their children during the weekend of fun. There was no shortage of cute kids scampering about – quite a sight that added another layer to the memories.

GREAT ATTENDANCE – Among the 10 position players who made 30-plus starts during the 2002 season, nine were able to attend the CWS reunion – all but former DH Matt Bok, currently in England on assignment with Bloomberg News. Matt, you were greatly missed but we hope to catch up with you later to round out the video interviews. The 2002 regulars in attendance included O’Toole (C), Thaman (1B), Sollmann (2B), Javi Sanchez (SS), Bushey (3B), Brian Stavisky (LF), Stanley (LF), Billmaier (RF) and Ken “Mongoose” Meyer (DH).

Among the six pitchers who logged 40-plus innings in 2002, the freshman trio of Johnson, Niesel and John Axford (current high-90s-throwing closer for the Milwaukee Brewers) were unable to attend … again we hope to catch up with them on video at a later date.

Three older pitchers who logged crucial innings back in 2002 – Gagne, Kalita and Peter Ogilvie – all were in attendance, as were Laird, Drew Duff, Matt Buchmeier, Martin Vergara and Cody Wilkins (setup man Brandon Viloria, lefthanded specialist Scott Bickford and Tyler Jones unfortunately were unable to attend).

The other position players in attendance included former Matt Macri, who was in line to be the starting shortstop & closer in 2002 but missed most of that freshman season due to injury (he went on to reach the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins), along with 1B Mike Holba, DH Brent Weiss and 2B Geoff Milsom. Five others were unable to attend: OF Matt Strickroth, infielders Zach Sisko & Matt Edwards, OF George Howard & catcher Mike Milligan.

The 1957 CWS reunion attendees understandably were fewer but three of the five on campus this weekend were starters in Omaha: All-American catcher Elmer Kohorst, record-setting RF Jim Morris (whose 10-for-14 batting in ’57 remains a CWS record) and LF Bob Senecal (a former member of the ND Monogram Club board of directors). Bob Giarratano, another 1957 team member on hand this weekend, had been the starter in right field before being sidelined due to injury (necessitating the switch of Morris from third base to right). Righhanded pitcher Jim Hannan rounded out the 1957 players who returned to ND this weekend.

(more later from the baseball reunion, here on the UNDerground blog) …

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