Club baseball tries to defend title

By Jessica Warchall

One year ago the Illini Club Baseball team was just beginning its first season on campus. Today, the team is preparing to repeat success and defend the national championship title it won in its first year.

The club team took first place in the Great Lakes West Conference last spring. Although the teams in the conference will change this year, president and co-founder Cary Bolnick has high hopes for Illinois. The club team also came in as first runner-up in the 2005 World Series of Club Baseball in Bradenton, Fla., last spring.

“We have something to defend and we’ve got our swagger,” co-founder Jay Goldberg said.

Bolnick described the first season as “trial and error,” and said this year they will know what to expect. Even though it is only the second year of play for the club team, Bolnick said they are ready to compete with anyone.

“Our confidence is bigger this year,” Bolnick said. “Every team we play, we expect to win.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

The club team’s fall season acts as extended tryouts. The team currently carries about 35 players, but by the end of the fall Bolnick and Goldberg will cut the team to 25 players. This cut is in preparation for the spring season, when it begins to play conference games.

The club team competed against Parkland College on Sept. 27, and is still confident after its 7-0 loss. This is the second loss to Parkland that the club team has endured this fall, with the teams meeting last on Sept. 13 with Parkland winning 7-5.

Bolnick said even though the Illini did lose to Parkland on both occasions, his expectations for the team did not waver. He said even though his team is a club program, it was able to “keep up” with the junior college team and learn from them.

“We can very much compete with (Parkland),” Goldberg said. “We do think we’re at their level.”

Parkland baseball head coach Mitch Rosenthal agrees that the Illini are competitive, and said they work hard. He plans to play the club again in the spring.

“The coach has done a great job organizing the team,” Rosenthal said.

However, Rosenthal said Parkland has had more time to prepare for the season and has a deeper pitching staff.

Parkland has the resources to have pitching coaches for the team since it is a junior college and the Illinois team is student-run, relying on sponsorships and fundraisers for support, Bolnick said.

“We take (the team) seriously even though we are student-run,” Goldberg said. “Cary and I have to step it up and become the leaders.”

The team usually plays games on the weekend, when players have time to travel to games. Pitcher Andy Groves said single games on Saturdays and double-headers on Sundays are not uncommon.

“We practice all of the time and we play year round,” Groves said. “We’re really serious about it.”

The team’s confidence is due in part to its rigorous practice schedule and the player’s dedication. Goldberg described the team as a cohesive unit that is ready to play.

“We may not be varsity, but this means a lot to us,” Bolnick said. “Everyone who’s out here has heart.”