Aug 23, 2013, 12:30 AM EDT
There are many student-athletes that graduate from the University of Notre Dame and enter careers outside of sports after they hang up their uniform for the final time. However, you may not know that some find their way back to Notre Dame to help mold the next-generation of student-athlete in a variety of non-coaching positions. Over the next five days we will present five Notre Dame graduates who have returned to their alma mater to work in a collection of different departments.
August 19 • Kevin Deeth ’10 (Hockey)
August 20 • George West ’09 (Football)
August 21 • Sara Liebscher ’91, MBA ’93 (Basketball)
August 22 • Steve Sollmann ’04 (Baseball)
August 23 • Mike McNeill ’88 (Hockey)
Steve Sollmann (’04), a career .370 hitter at Notre Dame, returned to the University in 2011 after he accepted a position to be an academic counselor for student-athletes. Sollmann’s duties include supporting the baseball, men’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s cross country teams academically and to challenge them to get the most out of their time at Notre Dame.
Sollmann’s path back to Notre Dame was unique in and of itself. After graduating from the University with a degree from the Mendoza College of Business, he began his professional baseball career after being drafted in the 10th-round of the 2004 MLB Amateur Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He credits his time at Notre Dame with preparing him for the rigors of professional baseball.
“Playing in the Minor Leagues was a great experience and it was always a dream of mine to get to the big leagues,” Sollmann said. “Obviously Notre Dame helped in a number of facets. Working with Coach Mainieri and all the assistant coaches and players, you learn so much over the course of four years about yourself and about the game of baseball. I can’t even imagine how kids go straight from high school to professional baseball.”
What many weren’t aware of back then, was Sollmann was never sure if he would actually play all four-years at Notre Dame. With the help of his academic advisor Adam Sargent, he had set himself up academically to graduate in 3.5 years. Which would only require him to finish only one semester if he left after his junior season.
“Going into my Junior year I was open to possibly leaving Notre Dame early if I was drafted high enough in that year’s MLB Draft,” Sollmann stated. “I probably had my best year statistically during my junior year but it just didn’t work out for one reason or another. At that point the financial aspect of being drafted in the 32nd-round just wasn’t worth it. Additionally, to have the chance to play one more year for the Irish was something that looking back on it was one of the best decisions I could have made.”
Coming off of having his junior-season ended abruptly at the NCAA Regionals in his junior season, Sollmann set his sights high for their senior campaign.
“I think we actually underachieved my senior season,” Sollmann quipped. “The recruiting class I came in with really wanted to make our mark and technically we did by setting the record for most wins in a season for the program with 51, but it was really an Omaha or bust type year for us. Unfortunately we fell just a little short of our goal, losing in the NCAA Regionals.”
No matter what the Notre Dame baseball team did in Sollmann’s senior season (2004), it would have been tough to top the 2002 season. During the 2002 season, the Irish made their way through NCAA Regional play and were set to face top-ranked Florida State in the NCAA Super Regionals in Tallahassee. Playing on Florida State’s campus was a great atmosphere for Sollmann and the Irish.
“In the grand scheme of things, playing in the NCAA Super Regional in Tallahassee was great because the crowd was completely against us,” Sollmann said. “There was a little pocket of 30-40 Notre Dame fans cheering against about 8,000 Florida State fans. Just to be able to overcome that and beat the #1 team in the country in two out of the three games was amazing.”
Albeit Sollmann was a fan of the atmosphere in Tallahassee, the moment he will remember and cherish forever came the next week in Omaha, Neb., as the Irish played in the school’s first College World Series since 1957.
“Nothing matches the feeling of being down by one against Rice in the College World Series and Steve Stanley getting the triple and then having to step to the plate with the game on the line,” Sollmann said excitedly. “All I was trying to do was just try to make decent contact. Fortunately, I was able to find a hole and then I stood on first and watched Brian Stavisky hit this bomb. Trotting around the bases watching everyone go crazy was unbelievable. It was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, that type of joy just isn’t felt by many. Being able to have family and friends see it on national television was amazing, it’s one thing to do it in front of 150 fans at Frank Eck Stadium, but to do it front millions around the country was incredible.”
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After his career at Notre Dame had ended and Sollmann had been drafted by the Brewers, he began his climb up the Minor League Baseball ranks. After batting .364 in rookie ball with the Helena Brewers, he was brought up to A-ball and would stay there for two seasons, batting around .280. His solid effort at the plate continued has he made it just one step below “the show” as a member of the Nashville Sounds. After one year with the Sounds, Sollmann decided to hang it up even though he sported a .291 career batting average.
“I’m happy with the way things unfolded with my retirement,” said Sollmann. “Your priorities begin to change. I had already been married for a few years and had a ten-month old daughter. When I decided to walk away it was because pro ball was no longer for me. I’m not sure if it was the travel or the experience. My goal was no longer to get to the big leagues; it was trying to be a good husband and good father first. My wife was extremely supportive and would have been great no matter what decision I made, but I was at peace with my decision to hang up my spikes.”
After leaving baseball in 2008, one of Sollmann’s first phone calls was to Sargent. Years before Sargent had called up Sollmann to see if he was interested in a job opening at Notre Dame in academic services. At that time, Sollmann wasn’t ready to leave baseball. But in 2008 Sollmann was ready to enter the workforce, but there weren’t many jobs available and no openings in academic services. The country was in the midst of one of the worst recessions in recent history and it was tough for a 26-year old to find gainful employment without any prior work experience outside of baseball. After 10 months of searching, Sollmann was hired in the financial field in Chicago. Two-and-a-half years later Sollmann returned to Notre Dame in his current role, welcoming him back was his old advisor Adam Sargent.
Sollmann had finally found a career that he loved at a university he cherished. However, working at Notre Dame was not always in the plans.
Sollmann is at peace with his decision to leave the game in which he has loved since before he can remember. That doesn’t mean he sometimes wonders “what if?”
“Sometimes I still miss the game,” Sollmann remarked. “Once in awhile, when the weather is a certain temperature, I think to myself how great it would be to be taking batting practice right now. But more so, I miss college baseball – the time in the clubhouse hanging out with the guys, practicing at Frank Eck Stadium and the experience of college at Notre Dame as a whole. I’m much closer with the guys I played with in college than the guys I played with in pro ball. My experience at Notre Dame has helped me more in my non-baseball playing career. Had I not chosen to go here, I can guarantee the opportunities and experiences I have been afforded would not have been as obtainable.”
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