Illini begin recovery from 2004

Head coach Richard Itch Jones gives instruction to Shawn Roof at Illinois Field on Monday. Online Poster

Head coach Richard “Itch” Jones gives instruction to Shawn Roof at Illinois Field on Monday. Online Poster

By Erik Hall

During the summer, members of the Illinois baseball team spread throughout the country on baseball teams from Minnesota to Massachusetts, down to North Carolina.

Sunday the team reconvened on Illinois Field to start four weeks of fall baseball practice.

“It’s good to get the orange and blue back on,” said sophomore infielder Ryan Hastings. “It’s good to get back out here. We’re going to try to improve on the last couple of years and try to get back to the level where we need to be.”

Hastings started 48 of Illinois’ 55 games last season, mostly at second base. Four returning players started more games than Hastings in 2004.

Senior Drew Davidson started 52 games in left field, junior Chris Robinson started 51 games as catcher and junior Trevor Huisinga started 50 games in centerfield.

Head coach Itch Jones still has six months until he chooses the lineup for the season’s start in late February or early March.

“Every position is wide open,” Jones said. “Probably there are a couple guys that have got a head start because they’re juniors or seniors. At the same time, if someone came in and just took over that position, that would be the person that played that position. I think we’re going to have some decent competition for positions.”

The third base position will not get much clarity for a while. All-Big Ten third baseman senior Chad Frk is scheduled to miss at least the next two weeks of practice because of a recent surgery.

Illinois lost its top three starters from 2004 to graduation. Now there are new opportunities for multiple pitchers to start.

Senior Jimmy Conroy started 10 games in 2004, but Conroy is the only pitcher back with the team that started more than four games last year.

“(Starting) is something I worry about later,” said junior Andy Sigerich, who started three games last spring. “The only thing I’m doing all fall is just mechanical stuff and working on drills. In the fall it’s not a thought for anyone.”

During the summer, Sigerich easily handled batters playing for the Madison (Wis.) Mallards of the Northwoods League. Sigerich went 5-0 in seven starts with a 0.59 ERA in the regular season and playoffs.

Competition to start for Illinois will come in time for Sigerich and any other pitchers looking to help the Illini improve upon last spring’s record, the worst in 25 years.

“A big thing for us now is working on stuff – drill wise – and basic mechanics while building team chemistry,” Sigerich said. “I think team chemistry is going to be a key for the season, among other things. I think it’s just a time where we really get to focus on the game and drills and build team chemistry.”

Pitchers and position players will spend the next four weeks working on drills that helped Jones win 1,207 career wins during his 39 seasons as a college baseball head coach.

“I want the players to learn to play the game the way it should be played and know (playing that way) they’re going to win a lot of ball games,” Jones said.

Already Working

Toward 2006

The opening practice for the Illinois baseball team included a visit from all-state pitcher/infielder Tanner Roark. Roark is a senior on the baseball and football teams at Wilmington High School.

Roark sat with his parents in front of the Illinois Field press box Sunday while Illinois’ players worked on cutoffs from the outfield and hitting to the opposite field.

Other schools in Roark’s final five are Illinois-Chicago, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Southern Illinois.

Roark helped Wilmington win the Illinois Class A baseball state title in 2003 and earn third place in 2004. Roark received the state tournament MVP award in 2003 as a sophomore.

The Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association recognized Roark as a first-team all-state pitcher in 2004 and a first-team all-state infielder in 2003.