Big Ten Baseball is a spring semester sport, there’s no question about that. The actual season is relatively short, lasting generally from February to mid-May. Considering that Big Ten colleges experience relatively cool spring weather, the home schedule is even shorter. C-U fans usually get to see the home team in action starting sometime in late March. So this prompts the question, how do the University of Illinois baseball players hone their skills and keep fit during the incredibly long off-season?
Indeed, the Illini baseball players have been quite busy over the summer. Starting from the week after classes get out in May, practically every returning player travels to a college summer league team to which they are assigned. These summer leagues exist throughout the country. Many Illini players play on teams in the Midwest. Others travel as far as North Carolina. In total, 24 players played in 13 teams in 7 different leagues. Keeping with tradition, the Northwoods League was a big partner with the University of Illinois. Three NWL teams took on eight Illini players during the summer of 2012.
One of those Northwoods League players was Justin Parr, who played for the Rochester Honkers. He ended the season in grand fashion with a 24 game hitting streak. That was good enough for a NWL record. Parr finished with a .370 batting average and 48 runs scored. He also stole 26 of 28 bases, which was good to see. Teammate and, by the way, twin brother, Jordan Parr (right) kept pace with Justin on the Honkers. He also hit 8 homers with 36 RBI. By the way, rumor had it Rochester Honkers coach Zach Etheredge had trouble telling the two Parr brothers apart.
Outfielder Will Krug, who will be a sophomore for Illinois this coming year, had a blazing year for the Crystal Lake Cardinals in the Chicago Suburban Baseball League. In fact, he was named to the National Amateur Baseball Federation College World Series All-Tournament team. For the summer, he led the Cardinals with a nifty .375 average, while stealing 55 bases.
If you think speed might be a factor for the Illini in the coming 2013 season, you may be right. In addition to Justin Parr’s and Krug’s thievery, Davis Hendrickson stole 22 bases and Thomas Lindauer swiped 21 in summer league action, both for the Waterloo Bucks of the NWL.
Don’t underestimate the effect that summer league play can have on a player’s confidence and production for the next year. Several times, I’ve seen players bounce from mediocre to top performers based on a fantastic summer league season the previous year. I won’t guarantee a great 2013 season from Will Krug, but then again, it wouldn’t surprise me either.
You can find a complete summer league wrap up over at FightingIllini.com.
Fall Practice and Intra-squad Orange and Blue World Series
Now, however, the summer is over and so are all the summer leagues. University classes have begun and the student-athletes are back, hopefully studying hard. However, that doesn’t mean baseball is off the agenda. There is regular practice at Illinois Field five days a week for the month of September. I’ve been out to the park a couple times and seen the guys in action. FightingIllini.com has posted a schedule of practice times in case anyone wants to drop by and watch.
The month of practice culminates into the annual event called the Orange and Blue World Series, an intra-squad series open to the public. This series, while not against a true opponent, is indeed hard fought and played to the fullest, if for no other reason, for bragging rights.
This fall, the Orange and Blue Series, played on October 1–3, will be your best chance to see the Illini in action before the 2013 home season.
Former Illini in the Pros
While the returning Illini were toiling away in summer leagues, there were some ex-Illini baseball players who are realizing their dreams playing in the minor leagues. Take Willie Argo (right) for example. After being drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays this spring, the speedy outfielder was assigned to the Rays’ Rookie League affiliate in Princeton. Argo thrived in Princeton, hitting .301 with 17 stolen bases. After a 4 for 4 effort on August 26th, somebody noticed him and he was promoted to the single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods. There, he helped them in their effort in the South Atlantic League playoffs.
Former Illini catcher Lars Davis has made his mark with Colorado Rockies AA affiliate Tulsa Drillers. After hitting .280 with eight homeruns and committing just one error, he was named as one of Tulsa’s All-Star representatives to the Texas League. Not only that, he’s not done for 2012. Davis received an invite to the Arizona Fall League this season.
Former Illinois fan favorite Shawn Roof has been minors for a good six years now. While he made it to triple-A last year with the Toledo Mudhens (I actually got a chance to see him play in Indianapolis), he’s played for the AA New Britain Rock Cats this year. One thing hasn’t changed about Roof though. Wherever he goes, he’s a hit with the fans. In fact when New Britain was playing a former team of Roof’s, that team used it as a marketing ploy to get fans to come to the game. Roof just has that effect on the fans of baseball.
Of course, I can’t forget outfielder Kyle Hudson. He actually got some playing time in the bigs with the Orioles after the 2011 call-up. In 2012, he finished out the season with the Phillies affiliate Lehigh Valley IronPigs (I do love Minor League nicknames). The fleet-footed centerfielder is currently one of only two former Illini players at the AAA level (catcher Chris Robinson is the other). Splitting time between Lehigh Valley and the Durham Bulls, Hudson had a pretty solid year hitting .264 with 44 runs scored. He continues to make pitchers nervous as he stole 17 bases in 2012.
Also of note:
- Robinson (AAA Baltimore), who has been working the minors since 2005, was recently traded to Baltimore organization from the Cubs. One hopes the change might help his chances to one day see the bigs.
- After a mid-season 5 for 12 stint, former catcher Adam Davis was promoted to Baltimore affiliate Delmarva Shorebirds where he spent most of his playing time for the ’12 season.
- Corey Kimes pitched respectably with a 3.23 ERA this season and advanced to Class-A ball in the Midwest League.
- Shortstop Brandon Wikoff, who probably has the most prospect of any recent Illini draftee, unfortunately spent much of 2012 on the disabled list.
- During mid-season, pitcher Matt Milroy was suspended 50 games for using a banned substance. In a statement to the press, Milroy took “full responsibility” for taking the over-the counter supplement that (unbeknownst to Milroy) contained the illegal substance.
You can see the entire list of former Illini who have made the jump to professional baseball at FightingIllini.com.
I hope that some of you can make it out to Illinois Field sometime this fall. If you can, come out for the Orange and Blue World Series on October 1–3.
See you at the ballpark!