Illini baseball finds many new leaders

By Nicholas Fortin

In most sports, at most schools, each season ends the same. Players graduate, some go on to play professionally, and just like that the team loses not only production, but leadership as well. 

This past season was no exception for the Illinois baseball team. The Illini lost veteran team leaders in a number of players, most notably the four Illini who were drafted and signed with MLB teams last summer.

Gone are Justin and Jordan Parr as well as Kevin Johnson and Thomas Lindauer, all of whom helped make up an upperclassmen-heavy lineup last year and provided the team with veteran leadership.

In their place, though, is a large group of experienced Illini who are hungry to make their mark on the program and lead the rest of the team.

“I don’t think we have one or two leaders,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “I think we have a group of upperclassmen and/or experienced players that at given times, depending on the situation, have done a good job for us, and I like that.”

With a large portion of the team gone from last year, a varied group of players on this year’s roster, including sophomore pitcher Kevin Duchene, have stepped into leadership roles for the Illini.

“I was kind of the new guy last year,” Duchene said. “So I’ll be taking these freshmen in and pushing my teammates harder than I would have last year, especially with all the seniors gone.”

When asked who he thought were some of the leaders of this year’s Illini, Duchene said that juniors infielder Reid Roper and outfielder Will Krug had stepped into those roles.

Krug, who played in 25 games last season before breaking his left arm, said he had to adapt his style of leadership after the injury. 

“Going from being able to play and then having to try to lead without being able to do the physical things that a player should be able to do was hard,” Krug said. “I had to become a bit more vocal. It was a hard time to watch the team play, but I learned a lot from it.”

Krug and Roper, who are two of the older players on an Illinois team with only two seniors, both said they will help each other lead the younger players throughout the season. 

“If someone needs someone to look up to or follow in their steps, I’d like to be that person,” Krug said. “I’ll say things when it needs to be said now and I’ll continue to lead by example.”

Junior pitcher John Kravetz will also provide vocal leadership for the Illini and likes the idea of the team having a number of new leaders instead of just a few.

“A bunch of guys have stepped up into leadership roles,” Kravetz said. “In the past it’s been kind of that the seniors are leaders, but we have two seniors on this team. So it’s different from teams I’ve been on in the past with a bunch of older guys. We probably have 15 leaders on this team, guys who tell guys what to do and guys who believe in each other and stuff. That’s what makes this team fun to be around. There’s no, ‘Oh, we’re in trouble, look to whoever.’ We’re looking at each other.”

Hartleb agreed with Kravetz in the fact that having multiple leaders will be a good thing for Illinois this season. 

“I like that fact that we’re not relying on one person,” Hartleb said. “If you’re relying on one person and all of a sudden they’re injured, they’re not a part of the mix for one reason or the other, you start wandering around and looking for leadership. We’ve got a group of strong upperclassmen that I think will give us great leadership.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.