Transfer portal, new faces infuse Illinois baseball with fresh opportunities for 2023

By Adam Rosen, Staff Writer

Throughout the past decade, the scope of collegiate athletics has drastically evolved. While the majority of collegiate sports coverage is dedicated to men’s basketball and football, the transfer portal is a large factor in every single sport.

It is no different for baseball, and at Illinois, despite returning nearly two dozen players from the previous season, the team still has a mixture of transfer players from all over the country.

One of those transfers is Christian Smith, a redshirt freshman outfielder who originally committed to the Vanderbilt Commodores out of high school. The Atlanta native did not appear in a game for the Commodores, however, and instead chose to enter the portal and join the Illini.

“It has been different in some aspects,” Smith said. “Traveling four weekends in a row is a bit different than what I am used to from last year.”

However, the similarities are still there for Smith, who enjoys the college baseball experience. Coming from Atlanta and Nashville, Champaign-Urbana was a very different environment for the outfielder.

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    “It is definitely colder and there is a lot less going on,” Smith said. “I’m from the city and at Vandy I was in the city as well. I have been a lot more focused and hunkered down on baseball here, being out here has been good for me.”

    Senior outfielder Danny Doligale, one of the more experienced players on the roster, has been with the team since 2020. As one of the longer-tenured players, Doligale spoke about the value of that experience.

    “It is good that we have a lot of experience on the team,” Doligale said. “It can help our young guys eventually be the leaders that they want to be on this team, and it can help them be a leader this year.”

    The transfer portal has allowed players to have control over their careers in a way that has never been seen before. While it benefits teams a lot, it also has its drawbacks.

    “I think it is exciting that we are continuing to bring new guys in that want to be here and want to win,” Doligale said. “It sucks to lose guys, but I think it is good to bring in new guys that are willing to work and want to be here.”

    Baseball is, like softball, a unique sport for college athletes, as it happens to be one of the most travel-heavy sports. The team has been on the road since the start of the season in the middle of February.

    “It has been exciting to go on the road,” Doligale said. “But it is also nice to have it come to an end eventually and get to play in home in front of our fans.”

    Fortunately for the Illini, this season’s opening road trip is the longest period of time they will be playing away from home. The Illini will be on a four-game homestand after this road trip.

    “I am (looking forward) to being at home next week,” Smith said. “Seeing the home crowd is going to be fun for us, we are going to enjoy it.”

    Through road trips and new additions, these Illini have plenty of time and new faces to learn from and grow with.

     

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