Recent draftees Brandon Wikoff (top), Dominic Altobelli (middle) and Joe Bonadonna say their time at Illinois was invaluable to their quest to play pro baseball.
June 26, 2009
By Laura Haning, Illinois Sports Information
Being a member of the Illini family is a special and unique experience for student-athletes on the University of Illinois campus. Recent Major League Baseball Draft picks Brandon Wikoff, Dominic Altobelli, and Joe Bonadonna are trading in their orange and blue to head in different directions to pursue their dreams. But no matter where their careers take them, being an Illini is something they will always share and value.
Their careers at Illinois prepared them for what lies ahead. The three believe they have evolved tremendously both as baseball players and as individuals. Aside from recognizing the great education the University of Illinois provides, they also each acknowledge Illinois baseball for making it possible to reach their life long goals. Altobelli recently signed with the Colorado Rockies after being drafted in the 16th round. He says the opportunities at Illinois enhanced his ability to make it to the next level.
"They have the best facilities in the Big Ten. Everything you need is available to become a better player and reach your goals," Altobelli said. "The coaching staff does a great job to help you become a better player and prepare both your attitude and mentality."
Wikoff said goodbye to Illinois with one year of eligibility remaining to join the Houston Astros organization after being selected in the fifth round. He believes Illinois was the perfect steppingstone on his way to professional baseball. "The baseball program is great," Wikoff said. "Competition in the Big Ten is tough and Illinois is a good program on the rise. It's the place to be right now. The coaching staff has a lot of connections to summer leagues that provide a lot of great exposure for the next level."
Joe Bonadonna was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 43rd round and is currently playing for the AZL Rangers in Surprise, Ariz. His experience at Illinois has made the transition a smooth one.
"The way Illinois teaches and handles their program is exactly the same I've been learning here," Bonadonna said. "I'm getting the same instruction. The system at Illinois really prepares you for the next level. The coaches are the best at what they do and the (program's) success in the past few years shows that. I wouldn't want to learn from anybody else. They really prepare you to perform at the next level."
Wikoff believes it's the principles he learned at Illinois that will take him far in his professional career. "Time management and work ethic are really important," he said. "The coaches preached that you've got to come to work every day and be responsible. They really challenge you and give guidance when necessary but also keep the right distance to work individually and allow you to take it upon yourself take your game to the next level."
Wikoff, Altobelli, and Bonadonna accredit Illinois to improving their basic, but very essential fundamental skills. Fighting Illini baseball provides expertise in every aspect to help each young man become the best player he can be.
At Illinois, players learn the importance of consistency in preparation, attitude and performance. Altobelli believes it is these traits that make him an asset to an organization.
"I had a good senior year, played steadily and displayed my abilities," he said. "I didn't do anything to `wow' people, but I played well consistently."
As for Bonadonna, he says the Rangers see him as a desirable pick for their program for similar reasons. "They like my versatility and the speed I bring to the game, and that I play hard every day," he said. "They love that I can play any position and that I'm going to come out and give everything I have."
Bonadonna says he acquired many traits as an Illini that he will carry with him to the professional realm. "Illinois instilled hard work and dedication. The coaches wanted us to put in our best effort every day and not take anything for granted," he said. "I'll always remember that the game doesn't owe me anything, but I owe it to the game to work hard."
The three former Illini say they've also developed many important characteristics at the U of I that they will take them far in life on and off the baseball field. They all spoke of their maturation in the program by learning from the example of older players as underclassmen while developing skills to become a leader.
Both Wikoff and Bonadonna attribute the development of relationships with teammates and classmates to enhancing their experience at Illinois. Bonadonna says, "I got to know a lot of people, and I got great instruction and a great education. I know myself better and I learned the extent of my abilities and what kind of person I am."
As each attempts to excel at the next level and in life, they look back fondly upon their time at University of Illinois and wouldn't have changed a thing. If asked to sum up their college experience all three of them have one word: "Awesome."
"It was the best years of my life," Wikoff said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. It was the best decision I've ever made. I love the coaching staff and my teammates.
Bonadonna sings a similar tune. "I wish I had four more years to be at Illinois. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way or anywhere else," he said.
Altobelli says, "I'm so fortunate and happy to have my degree. It was the time of my life."