Column: A little spring changing

By Lucas Deal

On Tuesday night, the Illinois baseball team lost 7-2 to Western Michigan at Illinois Field. The Illini fell behind early and never had a chance as the Broncos cruised to the win. Luckily, Illinois (14-9) rebounded in convincing fashion on Wednesday, banging out 14 hits in a 16-5 romp.

And yet despite the series-opening loss, Illinois Field was the home of a transformation of sorts on Tuesday night as Illinois freshman Joe Bonadonna officially made the jump from an infielder to an outfielder.

Yep, with two great catches on Tuesday night (and a third one on Wednesday), the little guy with the quick legs established himself as a legitimate defensive threat in Illinois’ already explosively quick defensive lineup.

Great play number one was an Andruw Jones-esque diving catch of a line drive in the third, while play No. 2 was a full-speed running catch near the warning track in the fifth.

Personally, I have to say I liked the second one better. The first one might have had a little bit more flair, a little bit more TV sparkle, but the second one was the kind of catch that makes a baseball nut like me itch to get back out on the diamond.

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    Leading off the top of the fifth against new Illini pitcher Ben Reeser, Western Michigan second basemen Matt Bolton hit a towering drive deep into left center. At first, I thought it was gone. But as the wind slowly pushed it back into play, a small orange figure appeared out of the corner of my eye. It was Bonadonna, sprinting full speed across the outfield like Dee on a fast break. (Okay, not that fast, but he was still moving).

    Both the ball and Bonadonna continued along for several seconds until at the last available instant, the 5-foot-8 centerfielder leaped out with everything he had and grabbed it. Then he landed, turned around and threw the ball back to the infield as if nothing had happened.

    To most of the 376 people in attendance, the play was nothing more than the first out of the inning. But to me, I saw more. To me, it was a change.

    As someone who played a solid outfield for 10 years, I’ve attempted about every catch you could ever think of. I’ve made some, I’ve missed some, but I’ve tried them all.

    The catch Bonadonna made? I know that catch, I’ve made that catch. And let me tell you, an infielder does not make that catch. An infielder takes the wrong path; an infielder ends up a step behind the ball and watches helplessly as it caroms off the tip of their glove.

    “Earlier in the year, I’m not sure he would have gotten there,” said Illini head coach Dan Hartleb. “But he made the play like an outfielder should.”

    That’s because Bonadonna isn’t an infielder any longer. Nope, with that catch he can formally be christened into the outfielder’s club.

    It’s not quite as exclusive as the infielder’s club, there’s a lot more leg work do get stuff done, but Bonadonna shouldn’t mind.

    Running things down aren’t a problem for him anymore.

    Lucas Deal is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].