IOTW: Bren Spillane continues to surprise the nation

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IOTW: Bren Spillane continues to surprise the nation

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois infielder Bren Spillane hits a home run during the game against Iowa at Illinois Field on Friday. The Illini lost 8-5

By Gavin Good, Staff writer

For Illinois first baseman Bren Spillane, the numbers speak for themselves.

Fourteen home runs, 28 extra base hits, 12 stolen bases, a .494 batting average and a 1.149 slugging percentage. And that’s just the beginning of the historic season the Illini junior is putting together.

Spillane had a monstrous last week of March, earning his second-straight appearance in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week and winning his third-consecutive Big Ten Player of the Week award.

The Wheeling, Illinois, native homered five times and was only put out three times total in the Illini’s four games. He also had twice as many base hits.

On Sunday against Iowa, he walked four times, a few of them intentionally. In the series against the Hawkeyes, he hit .667 (6-9) with three home runs.

Spillane does not enjoy being intentionally put on base, but he understands the approach and trusts that his teammates can bring him around the bases.

“It’s always a little frustrating to not be able to swing the bat sometimes,” Spillane said. “But it’s me having trust in the guys behind me; that they are going to be able to pick me up.”

Head coach Dan Hartleb expects this to happen regularly for the remainder of the season and said he and the team will have to adjust. Nonetheless, Hartleb is confident that Spillane will remain in good form and that the team can hit well behind him.

“It’s not really any different. I mean you had (Iowa) that tried to throw some quality pitches, they ended up getting behind and walked him,” Hartleb said. “That’s happened all year, so that’s not different from what he’s faced. Again, there will be times when they have to face him because of the game situation. Those are the times he’s going to have to do his damage.”

Like any other high-level athlete, Spillane didn’t get to the point he’s at naturally. His development took time.

Spillane got his start in baseball young, playing catch with his father and going to lots of Cubs games. He began playing travel ball, playing for the Palatine Travelers and The Athletic Barn. 

Spillane said that Tom Barnard, a longtime coach of his, was a big part of teaching him the game and the two still maintain a positive relationship. At the Athletic Barn, he also played with future Illini pitcher Quentin Sefcik and third baseman Zack Kolakowski, who graduated last year.

“I can always go back to him. I know that he’ll always be there for me, regardless of what it is,” Spillane said. “Baseball, life, it doesn’t matter.”

Spillane went to Wheeling High School, where he was captain of the baseball team from sophomore year until he graduated. There, he made the all-conference, all-area and all-state first teams.

He chose to come to Illinois afterward, despite being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 34th round. At this point, it’s nearly certain Spillane will be selected much higher in the draft. At many Illinois games since Spillane’s bat caught fire, there have been a number of scouts there to see him, along with several other Illini.

While Spillane enjoys being recognized for his performance on the field — being the only Illini to win three straight Big Ten Player of the Week awards — he said it has not affected his mindset or the way he approaches each day.

After dealing with injuries that limited his play to varying extents his freshman and sophomore seasons, Spillane feels that simply staying healthy is something that has helped him find his groove. 

“I’d like to stay with the game as long as I can,” Spillane said. “And with that, I’d like to affect as many lives as I can positively.”

For now, he is focused on the present, but Spillane is optimistic about the future and happy to be where he is at today.

“It’s awesome, just knowing that there is the attention and that I possibly have a future in baseball,” Spillane said. “That’s something you dream of as a child and can’t replace.”

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