John Michael Bertrand and Notre Dame are on a wave that’s just begun

OMAHA, Nebraska — Notre Dame keeps shaking the thunder from the sky, just the way the fight music says, only it’s supposed to be about football. But there is magic in Irish baseball now, even more vivid after they beat Texas 7-3 on Friday night at the College World Series. To understand, consider the last two days of the pitcher with three college degrees.

Thursday . . .

John Michael Bertrand is on the floor of the Charles Schwab Field suite, pointing his cell phone camera at the diamond below and snapping pictures of his own field of dreams. He would be there the next night, facing Texas.

It is a time to reflect on the path to this moment. “Everyone has their own journey to get here,” he begins. “You look at mine. I started as a walk-on at Furman University and got cut in my freshman year. There probably aren’t many 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 start the following night against Texas. More than that, he would go down the hill as an Academic All-American. He has two masters to go with his undergraduate degree. In 2021, when the Irishman returned from Starkville and the agonizing regional defeat to the state of Mississippi, he had to start his accelerated MBA program the next morning. He took 18 credit hours last summer.

So he’s ready for challenges, and here comes another one; facing Texas to start Notre Dame’s first College World Series in 20 years. Thursday is for savoring the opportunity. The next night would be very different.

“When tomorrow comes, it’s a business trip. It’s something we have to be able to fixate on and focus on,” he says. “As incredible as the park and field are, that hill is still 60 feet, six inches away. Every time you get to that base path 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 guess I 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 avoiding 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 is no nervousness. It’s just game time.”

Friday . . .

Thirty hours later, the deed is done. The Irish beat Texas, continuing the wave that took them to Knoxville and the sights of Tennessee’s No. 1 in the super regional. Bertrand shoots for sixth. His fastball doesn’t smoke the radar gun, but keeps Longhorn bats in check with precision.

“He was more like a pitchability guy, he didn’t have a lot of speed to beat us,” Dylan Campbell of Texas will later say: “We just couldn’t understand him.”

The Notre Dame lineup did the rest with ruthless efficiency – two solo home runs and nine singles. A hit-and-run here, an extra base there, a handshake. “I thought the full range of our offense was on display today,” says coach Link Jarrett. “When we’re playing well, that’s what we do.” To finish off the Longhorns, Jarrett calls in rookie Jack Findlay to retire the last seven hitters.

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Notre Dame hasn’t won a game in Omaha in 20 years. That ended the rice. The last Irish victory before that was over Texas—in 1957. This was Notre Dame’s fourth all-time College World Series victory. Texas won 88.

But after beating Tennessee and then beating the Longhorns, it’s getting really hard not to take the Irish seriously as true championship contenders. “We try not to pay too much attention to the outside noise,” says second baseman Jared Miller, who puts the Irishman in front for a first-inning home run. It’s a team that plays on the wisdom of its years, which is why Jarrett has decided there’s 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 showcases one of them – when that double master pitcher comes off the mound in the sixth inning after being relieved and shares his glee with the crowd. From being told he wasn’t good enough for Division I to hear the cheers of Omaha, that’s a baseball light-year journey.

“That means everything,” says Bertrand of the big night afterward. “It was unreal. I looked up and could see my brothers holding some big heads off of me. You want baseball to be fun. The moment it’s not fun anymore is the moment you should probably turn it off.”

But you don’t think about hanging anything on Friday night in Omaha. On the contrary, Notre Dame seems to be just getting started.

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