From wannabe G.A. to Starting Catcher

Back in August, looking for a way to stay close to the game he loved, Matt Weglarz, a graduate student at Notre Dame walked into baseball coach Dave Schrage's office and inquired about a graduate assistant position.

Schrage, the former Evansville skipper, remembered Weglarz being an all-conference catcher in the Missouri Valley Conference for rival Missouri State. Unfortunately, Schrage didn't have an open position on his staff.

Then Weglarz told Schrage he was enrolled in the MBA program, and still had one year of eligibility remaining. Next thing he knew, he was on the Irish roster.

"I walked in, and that's what I wanted to do to help pay off some of my school," Weglarz said of the idea behind being a graduate assistant. "He said we have a spot, we need a bat in the middle of the lineup, how would you like to play?"

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Weglarz jumped at the opportunity to play, but didn't expect to see much time. A three-year starter at Missouri State, he missed most of the Irish's fall ball (1-for-6 at the plate during the Blue-Gold Fall Series, with two starts at first base) because of his class schedule. He got a couple classes changed and is ready to go for the spring.

Good thing he did, because when Weglarz returned to campus following winter break, Schrage called him into his office and told him three-year starter Sean Gaston will miss the whole season.

"He said we are going to need you to carry a little bit more of a load than we thought," Weglarz said. "I kind of kicked it into high gear as far as catching guys, a lot of guys on the team didn't even know I was a catcher until spring time.

"The first thought that popped into my head was how am I going to do this with school and baseball together, because school is quite a load, and then you have a lot heavier obligation to the guys on the team, playing a role like catcher, or any position on the field for that matter."

Weglarz's history shows that he is up for the challenge. At Missouri State, the Kansas City product had a career batting average of .293 with 11 homers and 103 RBIs. He also smacked 39 doubles, and has a career slugging percentage of .430. He has played in the prestigious Cape Cod summer league among others.

Weglarz worked with top-notch hurlers, including Brett Sinkbeil, the 19th overall selection in the 2006 Major League Draft.

"He's got some power, he can hit the long ball for us and he puts the bat on the ball pretty consistently," Schrage said. Good thing, because the Irish lineup doesn't have much pop. "He'll open in the five spot, which is where Gatty was going to hit."

Those guys that didn't know Weglarz was a catcher, quickly got to work throwing with him. With the season set to open this weekend in San Antonio, he thinks he has a decent understanding of what the Irish arms like to do.

"I think it's constantly a learning situation, but I kind of got a feel for what everybody does, especially the veteran guys, just let them throw what they want to throw, let them throw how they want to throw and just kind of help them out along the way."

"He caught them all the time in the spring for the last month in a half," Schrage said. "He knows the guys really well, it's just a matter of getting to know what they are going to throw. He caught some guys in the fall, it wasn't like he didn't catch on the days he was there. Now he is on top of what he is doing, plus (pitching coach) Sherard (Clinkscales) will call most of the pitches early in the season anyways."

A foot injury kept Weglarz from playing his freshman season at Missouri State. That year, the Bears advanced to the College World Series under long-time coach Keith Guttin, who has 841 wins in 24 years at the school. Weglarz got to enjoy the ride, but couldn't contribute.

"It was a phenomenal experience but it would even better to step up and play in it," Weglarz said.

"This is great to have this opportunity. I just want to try and help out. I used to have dreams of trying to play pro ball, now it's just trying to help out and win baseball games and get back to the World Series, and do whatever I can for the program."

Helping Weglarz fill the void behind the dish will be touted freshman Ryan Smith, and starting second baseman Ross Brezovsky, who has been getting some work since Gaston went down.

But it sounds like Weglarz will get the first crack at being the regular guy.

"It could be a great story," Schrage stated. "We'll see what happens. He's a nice guy to have come walk in off the street."

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