David Kerian embraces leadership role at first base for Illinois baseball


Illinois’ David Kerian  prepares to swing during Illinois win against Oakland at Illinois Field on Saturday, March 30, 2013.

Playing first base once made David Kerian nervous.

The first ball thrown to him last season made his heart race. He had only played shortstop, never first base. And replacing veteran Jordan Parr when he shifted to left field made his new position strenuous. He wasn’t even sure he could catch the ball every time.

Now, Kerian’s more concerned with leading an Illinois baseball team that lost five position players in the offseason and only returns two seniors.

“He’s very soft spoken,” associate head coach Eric Snider said. “So you think he’s a softer kid, but he comes out and competes. I’d like to see him just a little bit more vocal.”

And Kerian agrees, which is why he admires fellow junior Will Krug. While he said he and Krug both lead by example, he often lacks conviction in his voice when helping younger players learn the college game.

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Speaking up wasn’t hard for him when the first base slot opened up, though. He came equipped with the athleticism, arm strength and speed necessary to man first, and his desire to play every day earned him the role, Snider said.

“He did all right,” Snider said. “We started him out real simple. Just catch the baseball.”

Learning mostly required repetition. First base records about twice as many putouts as any other position, which Kerian likes. Parr taught him technique, from footwork to fielding ground balls. But Parr’s confidence is what rubbed off most on Kerian through his 50 starts last season.

In 2013, Kerian filed 489 putouts, 20 assists and a .990 fielding percentage in 514 chances while only committing five errors — the fewest in the Big Ten and two fewer than Parr the year before. He also turned 43 doubles plays, which helped rank Illinois 29th in the nation for double plays per game (.98.)

His confidence helped Kerian hit .313 with a home run, 39 RBIs, 23 stolen bases and a .390 on-base percentage, which earned him a first-team All-Big Ten selection.

The quality play of his teammates is what Kerian said made last season manageable, though. He credits veterans Thomas Lindauer at shortstop and Brandon Hohl on third base with making sure crisp, accurate balls came his way. And when he made a mistake, he fixed it.

“He’s very coachable,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “You tell him one thing, and within 15 or 20 minutes, he’s made that adjustment.”

Kerian’s worries about catching the ball have since faded. He rarely frets about making the right play, either, but the leadership role still stumps him at times.

“Great leaders go out and lead regardless, and that’s something you have to learn,” Hartleb said. “And he’s making a lot of progress in that.”

When leading gets challenging, Kerian turns to his father, Steve, who originally inspired him to play baseball. His dad’s advice on communicating with a team comes from his years of playing fastpitch softball on multiple ASA national championship teams — years that consist of some of Kerian’s first memories.

Kerian also relies on the opinion of his older brother, Jeff, who played outfield for Lindsey Wilson College. But he knows family can only help so much before it fall on him to do for himself.

And he feels he is doing a good job, too. Kerian makes a point of talking to younger players in practice, as Parr did with him last season. On the field, he makes his throws strong and precise to help his teammates the way he was helped. But above all, he wears confidence at first base and lets it rub off on whoever needs it.

“I have confidence in myself that I’ll be able to make the play,” he said. “I’m just hoping that if I have to rely on somebody else, they’ll get their job done, which about every time they do.”

J.J. can be reached at [email protected] and @Wilsonable07.