Former Illini Nate Lavender adjusts to life as a pro

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Cameron Krasucki

Former Illini baseball player Nathan Lavender walks off the field after pitching three outs on April 18 against Purdue. Nathan Lavender will now be playing in the MLB with the New York Mets.

By Will Payne, Assistant Sports Editor

In early July, the 2021 MLB Draft took place, as all 30 major league clubs looked to draft some of the best up-and-coming talent the game of baseball has to offer. During the three days and twenty rounds, two different Illinois baseball players were drafted. With their pick in the 14th round, the New York Mets picked up one of these Illini players in left-handed pitcher Nathan Lavender.

During the 2021 season, Lavender boasted a 7-2 record with a 4.11 ERA and 79 strikeouts. It was no surprise Lavender was taken in the MLB draft, but he did a little more waiting than he anticipated. 

The Hudson, Illinois native said he did not have any specific team he wanted to be drafted by, but he expected a club would snag him on the second day.

“I did have high hopes during day two,” Lavender said. “I had some calls and was anticipating being taken on day two, so I was really locked in on the picks and watching each name come up on the board.”

Instead of being down in the dumps about having to wait until the later rounds to hear his name called, Lavender instead wanted to get his mind off the whole process. He booked a tee time with his dad, mother and brother the next day, and luckily it did not take too long for Lavender to get the call.

“I was actually on hole three with my family, and then I got the call on the golf course,” Lavender said. “It was pretty cool to be with them.”

With any professional sport, there is not a lot of time to celebrate after getting drafted. Any team wants their selected players getting to work immediately, and with the New York Mets, it was not different.

“After being selected, there were a couple days of down time,” Lavender said. “The plan for me was to fly down to Port St. Lucie in Florida, where their complex is. Basically, (the Mets) wanted me to get down here for a few weeks, get acclimated with everything about the organization, some of the ins and outs, and to lift and continue to throw.”

Despite the Mets’ long history of being the little brother of New York baseball, they find themselves atop the NL East at this point in the year at 54-47. A part of their success has come from the pitching of Jacob deGrom, who is one of the best arms in the league. 

Lavender is excited to join the Mets franchise partly because of their emphasis on the movement of the ball, something he focused on with the Illini.

“The pitching portion of the organization is a very movement-focused program,” Lavender said. “And that is what I really worked on at the University of Illinois, basically honing in on those movements. So I think it will play off really well as I transition into professional baseball.”

Two rounds earlier in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Atlanta Braves chose fellow Illini pitcher Andrew Hoffmann. Both Hoffmann and Lavender were part of the Illinois pitching staff this past season, and they were excited to take their respective pitching careers to the next level.

“We’ve had a few conversations,” Lavender said. “First off, it was basically exchanging a congratulations to each other, as we know we both worked really hard to be in this spot.”

Though getting drafted is a huge step in any young professional baseball player’s career, it’s a long road through the minor league system to get to the biggest stage. Despite the journey ahead of him, Lavender is excited to make the most of this challenge and eventually don the blue pinstripes on the mound at Citi Field in the near future.

“The program has a great reputation,” Lavender said. “The people I have met down here so far, the staff, the coordinators have all been great people. So I’m just looking forward to being a Met and hopefully making a career here.”

 

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