LOUISVILLE — University of Louisville head baseball coach Dan McDonnell opened his heart for all to see Saturday night after his Cardinals qualified for the College World Series in Omaha with a two-game super regional sweep of Kennesaw State.
It’s Louisville’s second straight berth in the eight-team, double-elimination CWS, and the Cards’ third in McDonnell’s eight seasons at the school.
The 50-15 Cardinals take on 46-19 Vanderbilt in a first-round game Saturday night at 8 on ESPN2.
Saturday’s revelation began some 5-10 minutes after McDonnell started his post-game press conference when he was asked about lessons learned from last spring’s CWS flameout that saw his Cardinals bow out with consecutive losses, to Indiana (2-0) and Oregon State (11-4).
“This team is very focused,” McDonnell said. “We have great leadership.”
McDonnell then paused and looked down at the table in front of him.
“I pray every day that God gives me the wisdom and the strength to coach these kids,” he said with a halting voice. “Sometimes you have to have the presence to step back and just let them go. Don’t bunt, don’t steal ... just let ’em play. Just trust them.”
But then, unprompted, emotions came out of the Louisville coach like a flash flood.
“I pray that there’s humility,” he said after a very long pause. “I don’t want this to be about me. This is not about me. I get a lot of praise when we win. But this is about my assistants (Chris Lemonis, Roger Williams, Kyle Cheesebrough and Brian Mundorf) and the players (see gocards.com). I’m the one who’s blessed.”
McDonnell stopped briefly, trying to rein in emotion.
“It’s uncomfortable,” McDonnell said, speaking in little more than a whisper, “when people say I’m taking these kids to Omaha. Because I’m not ... they’re taking me.
“I feel very blessed, and, as you can tell, very emotional that I get to be around these kids, because it’s fun. And my prayer is that I don’t take it for granted, that I enjoy it, and that I have peace about these games.”
McDonnell said Omaha’s CWS is special for numerous reasons.
“It’s special for the kids and their families and their friends, and it’s a good feeling because I feel more prepared now, the more we go,” he said. “It’s a privilege to get to go there.”
McDonnell indicated this Louisville team may be the best prepared yet to break through with the school’s first national title in baseball.
And it goes beyond last season’s experience in Omaha, enjoyed by 19 of the Cardinals who are back for another try.
“As a coach, you don’t win a national championship once, you don’t go to Omaha once ... these things are already done in your brain,” said McDonnell, who also played in the College World Series in the early ’90s for The Citadel.
“For me, these things are done when I go jogging, and I listen to music and I daydream. These are things I think about.”
McDonnell said he’s thought about winning the CWS “for a long time.”
“I always felt that maybe that was an advantage that I went there as a player and experienced it,” he said. “And then getting a chance to go in ’07.”
McDonnell said he’s shared his vision with his players.
“You don’t do anything great once,” McDonnell said he tells them. “You do it in your mind. You live it in your mind, so when it happens, you’ve already experienced it. I’ve experienced walking across home plate, shaking the other coach’s hand after we win.”