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Notre Dame Baseball

Bertrand's travels lift Notre Dame baseball's program path

May 19, 2022

The memory, vivid enough that Link Jarrett instantly recollects baseballs typhooning across the infield at UNCG Baseball Stadium, is also the origin story.

Well, where the second scene of John Michael Bertrand’s college career unfolds; the first having been when Furman University baseball coaches had cut Bertrand, a walk-on, years earlier.

“That was tough, a tough moment,” Bertrand said. “I don’t think I’d ever been cut from an athletics team, to be honest with you. They said, ‘We don’t think you’re good enough to play Division I baseball at the moment, and we’re going to cut you from the team.’

“I went back home and was talking to my mom (Christine) one day after that, and I think it was the first time I ever vocalized I wanted to play professional baseball.”

Three years ago, Bertrand, draped in his Paladins uniform, stood on the mound opposite Jarrett’s final Spartans’ baseball team.

The early-April forecast had included no real chance of rain, but as folks of the region know, North Carolina weather can do North Carolina weather things – especially if rain climbs east across the Appalachian Mountains.

Soon enough, the first game of the Furman-UNC-Greensboro series was stopped. Unplayable.

Soon thereafter, the left-handed Bertrand had a new admirer.

And the inflection point of a path that today has Bertrand as a reigning All-Atlantic Coast Conference and All-America selection for Jarrett’s No. 8 Notre Dame program as it is set for an ACC battle royale this weekend at No. 9 Miami (37-14, 18-9).

“Like I’ve told you, he pitched against me, and it started to rain and drizzle and there was nothing on the radar,” said Jarrett, now 77-26 through his first 103 games atop the program in the best-ever start for an Irish coach’s first 100 games. “It was the craziest thing, and we played an inning.

“He was on the mound for the bottom of the second, and the drizzle was so heavy the ball rolled across the infield, and it was rooster-tailing. You couldn’t play. So we banged it.”

After all, Bertrand by that point had not only worked through his pre-game throwing progression but had spun a scoreless first inning that was sandwiched between Furman’s five-run outburst in its first two at-bats – enough that Jarrett had changed pitchers in the second inning of that soon-to-be-stopped affair.

Plenty of starting pitchers would have banged their turn. Not Bertrand.

“We came back the next day and he finished the game, complete-game,” Jarrett said of Bertrand’s eight-hit, five-strikeout tour de force. “I saw it at that point in him. If you have a good, athletic defense, that helps, too. I think our guys help.

“But I saw it first-hand, so it didn’t surprise me. But his work ethic and demeanor, it’s hard to expect anybody has that level of feel and demand on themselves.”

As the iron-willed Jarrett has wrenched Notre Dame back into national baseball relevancy, a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth a certainty as the Irish (32-11, 15-9) seek an Atlantic Division crown and still maintain a chance to repeat as ACC champions the next three days against Miami, Bertrand has been the unflappable tone-setter on the mound.

In 26 career starts for the Irish, Bertrand has posted a 14-3 ledger with three complete games.

Challenged by Jarrett and the Irish staff after last season to up his strikeout numbers, Bertrand has punched out 71 batters in 69 innings – three more than all of last season, when he worked more than 92 innings. He’s increased velocity, too; his fastball now routinely sits low-90s and he recently lit up the radar with a 94mph four-seam fastball, a personal best.

“That’s a combination effect right there,” said Bertrand, quick to distribute praise around Notre Dame’s strength, training and support staff and pitching coach Chuck Ristano. “I put on 20 pounds from the end of last season to the fall, good weight, healthy weight, lean muscle mass. So I was able to put on weight and maintain flexibility and increase mobility.”

While those elements speak to Bertrand’s on-the-field success, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Alpharetta, Georgia, native and brother of Irish starting linebacker JD Bertrand also has approached his academic and campus responsibilities in a similar manner.

He recently won both the Byron V. Kanaley Award, the fabled institution’s most esteemed honor for any student-athlete, and the Community Champion Award for his philanthropic work both on campus and in the South Bend, Indiana, community.

Just as he had done at Furman, Bertrand at Notre Dame has originated a bible-study group; more of an informal life circle than parsing lessons from scripture.

“More than talking faith, it’s establishing a group to be there for each other beyond baseball, through the highs and lows of life, socially, with girlfriends, things of that nature,” Bertrand, who out of high school admitted he initially had not been accepted into Notre Dame, said. “I think that was a real important thing that helped with team unity and growth at Furman.

“Every single one is different, and there might have been more quantity at Furman at times, but quality of output and conversations with guys here, with different stories, backgrounds, it’s a great way to grow that unity with something to share outside of baseball. This is definitely the healthiest, most fun and well-connected locker room and team I’ve been a part of. It’s just a good group of men who want to do well and win and play hard together.”

A baseball-lifer with his own All-America credentials as a standout-player at Florida State, Jarrett has marveled at Bertrand’s relentless approach.

“His appreciation for everything we do is unmatched in anything I’ve seen,” Jarrett said. “His appreciation for his work in the bullpen, his appreciation for his position, for his charts that he does, his stuff in the weight room, his conditioning. This is an elite performer who just takes that to the mound, and it’s as impressive as anything I’ve seen.

“There might be days it’s not as sharp as he would want it to be, but you never walk away going, ‘Ah, the guy wasn’t prepared or didn’t put in the time.’ He puts in more time and effort … nobody can put in more time and effort to what they’re doing in a focused manner.”

Now, once cut from his Group of 5 program’s baseball team to a graduate-student with “a Master’s from Mendoza College of Business, the crème-del-a-crème” and certain selection in this summer’s Major League Baseball Draft, Bertrand’s career arc nearly is complete.

Enough to almost leave his coach speechless.

“No, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that,” Jarrett said.

Then again, who has?

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