Second-Year Indiana/Notre Dame Matchup Viewed By Coaches and Participants As a Great Day for Baseball in Indiana
By Mike Lopresti
What they remember about Victory Field, on both sides, was the buzz. No ordinary college baseball game, last April 21.
There was a crowd of nearly 9,000 the day Indiana and Notre Dame played on Maryland Street in 2015. Many of them in Hoosier crimson, others in Irish gold and blue. Still others neutral, drawn by the game itself.
Or as Indiana coach Chris Lemonis said this week, “I think you just got a lot of the city out. I think you had IU fans there, I think you had Notre Dame fans there, but I think we had a lot of just baseball fans there, which was exciting to see.”
Or as Irish coach Mik Aoki said, “I thought it was great for college baseball, I thought it was great for Notre Dame, I thought it was great for Indiana.”
Or as Austin Cangelosi, a major leaguer’s son who played first base that day for Indiana, said, “It just really felt like a big-league atmosphere. It went into the ninth inning and we won on a walk-off. It was everything you dreamed of, playing as a kid, and I got to experience it in college.”
The game ended 6-5, the Hoosiers scoring three runs in the ninth, thanks largely to two Irish errors.
“Let’s see, I remember probably two things. I remember us coughing up the lead in the ninth inning, and I also remember, probably much more fondly, the atmosphere,” Aoki said. “Our ride back was a lot better than theirs. They probably outplayed us for eight innings, and we won the last one,” Lemonis said.
Now they’ll have Chapter II. Indiana and Notre Dame meet next Tuesday in Victory Field at 7 p.m, in a match of two teams on a roll. Through the past weekend, Indiana was 20-14 and had won eight of nine. Notre Dame was 21-12 and had won 13 of 15.
They’ll intersect once more in Victory Field, hoping for a scene to match last April. That was different than your garden variety Indians’ game. Tribe fans like winning as much as anyone else, but they’re also there for Kids Eat Free Sundays, or the fireworks, or the T-shirt giveaways or Rowdie. Minor league baseball is one part sport, one part carnival midway.
The Indiana fans came to see their team put a thumping on the Irish. The Notre Dame fans, vice versa. Put college fervor with a good-sized crowd, and the noise can still be savored a year later.
“Overall I just remember a really fun atmosphere and a great environment to play in, and being really, really pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd and the environment that was there,” Aoki said. “The Indians did a phenomenal job of marketing that and getting people to the stadium. It was a great experience for our student-athletes.”
Same for Indiana.
“That was part of the idea of putting it all together; celebrating baseball in our state a little bit,” Lemonis said. ”We’ve got a great state in baseball, from the youth level to the high school level to the college level.
“We actually spent the afternoon (visiting children) at Riley Hospital, and then getting a chance to play in an environment like that was absolutely awesome. In our world, playing in front of that many fans, that’s the special part about it.
“And then on top of everything else, last year when we played there, it was a perfect carpet. You felt like you were playing on a big-league field.”
In some ways, the Hoosiers might have also felt like they were playing in Bloomington. IU carried the majority in the grandstands.
“That’s the best crowd I played in front of, besides the Big Ten tournament my freshman season, which was 20,000 fans,” Cangelosi said. “They were all Nebraska fans, so I’ve been on both sides.
“This was a game you highlighted on the schedule. I’ve got a lot of family coming.”
How many family members? “I had to borrow some tickets from the guys.”
One of his guests knows a little bit about big league fields. Father John played 13 years in the majors, including the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins.
“Just appreciating the game, and being a grinder,” Cangelosi named as the biggest carry-overs he has from his father. “Because my dad was a guy that people thought he wouldn’t even be in the big leagues as long as he was. I come out and try to respect the game and play it hard every day.
“There’s not a wall I won’t run through.”
He was four when his father retired, so he doesn’t remember much of John’s active days. “I wish I was older so I could appreciate it more. I was walking around some of the best clubhouses in baseball and I was a little baby,” he said. “I’ve watched his World Series video about 50,000 times.”
John wore No. 10 much of his career and his son would not have minded wearing it, too. But when Austin arrived at Indiana, an upperclassmen had already made the number rather familiar for Hoosier fans.
“I wasn’t about to ask Kyle Schwarber if I could have his number as a freshman,” Cangelosi said.
Good idea. Which is why Austin Cangelosi will be No. 18 next Tuesday. Meanwhile, Cavan Biggio will be wearing No. 23 for Notre Dame. His father Craig played 20 seasons for Houston, recently was voted into the Hall of Fame, and had his No. 7 retired by the Astros.
So there’ll be young players with unfatherly jersey numbers at Victory Field. Indiana and Cangelosi want a repeat of their last meeting. Notre Dame and Biggio wish for the same atmosphere, but a different ending. Losing a two-run lead in the ninth is tough to swallow anywhere. Not that it ruined the experience.
“We were able to look past it, is probably the best way to say it,” Aoki said. “And if you ask what I remember most about it is I thought that was a really, really great day for college baseball in Indiana.”
Mike Lopresti is a Ball State University graduate and Richmond, Ind. native and resident. He was a sports columnist for Gannett newspapers and USA Today for 31 years, and covered 30 World Series and 33 Major League Baseball All-Star Games. He is a voter for Baseball Hall of Fame. When he retired he was 16th in nation in seniority on Baseball Writers Association of America.