Adam Davis, Josh Parr and Corey Kimes signed professional contracts after being selected in the 2011 MLB Draft.
Nov. 14, 2011
By Ben Taylor, Illinois Sports Information
After Illinois' incredible run to the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, and to the championship game of the NCAA Fullerton Regional in June, three Illini players were selected in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, marking the second time that had happened in the past three years. Those three juniors - catcher Adam Davis, pitcher Corey Kimes and shortstop Josh Parr - signed professional contracts and made a smooth transition to the next level, thanks in large part to their experiences at Illinois.
"I adjusted very easily," Parr said. "I not only learned how to hit and field better at Illinois, I learned game instincts and how to react to situations, things that some colleges don't even teach.
"I think the difference between the way Illinois' coaches do things and a lot of other schools is that other colleges babysit a little more. They try to control signs and control the game more than Illinois' coaches do. At Illinois, catchers call their own game, guys have green lights to steal. So I really learned the game of baseball."
For the last few years, associate coach Eric Snider, who leads instruction of the Illini offense as well as the infield and outfield defense, has traveled to Tampa, Fla., in the fall to attend the New York Yankees' instructional league. Always looking for new drills and techniques, Snider has incorporated a number of things he learned from the Yankees' staff with the Illini.
"When I was back for the Big Ten championship ring banquet (on Oct. 15), Coach Snider was trying to pick my brain about drills that we did (in the Orioles' farm system), and I just kept telling him that we do the exact same drills that he has Illinois' hitters do," Davis said. "We have great coaches at Illinois that teach pretty much exactly what the coaches in the Baltimore organization teach us. Coach Snider does a fantastic job with the hitters at Illinois and a lot of stuff that he picks up at instructional league with the Yankees is huge."
Kimes also said his transition to pro ball was smooth, but for different reasons. While some of the raw talent around him in the Appalachian League was impressive, his level of baseball knowledge helped him succeed.
"Playing three years at Illinois definitely made me confident going in," Kimes said. "It wasn't a huge jump and honestly, it was a lot like summer ball. You just went to the park every day, got your work in and played a game every night. Even if I wasn't as talented as somebody I was facing, I felt like I could use my skills to pitch well."
For Parr, one of the main things the coaches wanted him to do between 2010 and 2011 was to slow the game down. He made 26 errors in his sophomore season, the year he moved from second base to shortstop, but only nine in 2011.
"Coach Snider told me after that season as I was heading off to Madison (to play summer ball), that I made all those errors by speeding up the game," Parr said. "But he reminded me that I had all the tools, I just had to slow the game down. They kept reminding me of that all through my junior year and that just helped with the transition to pro ball. And they changed a couple little things in pro ball, but nothing major. Illinois just does it right."
Another aspect of the Illinois program that the draftees mentioned was the family atmosphere and the bond they formed with their teammates. That togetherness was what brought them out of the early-season slump that left their record at 12-21.
"It made us fight through things," Davis said. "We were on pace to set the school record for losses and we didn't want to be known for that. We knew we were better than that. At the beginning of the year, we made this list of goals and after the first couple of weeks, those goals seemed like they were out of reach. But we kept fighting through our struggles and took it upon ourselves and accomplished all of our goals."
They were able to celebrate those goals at a banquet before the Illinois-Ohio State football game on Oct. 15. The team and players' parents gathered at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, where they heard from Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas and News-Gazette columnist Loren Tate before watching the season highlight video and receiving their rings.
"It was awesome," Kimes said of the championship ring. "I'd been looking forward to getting that ring since we won the Big Ten Tournament. I had never really won anything athletically in my life, so I've been waiting for it for a long time. The ring was amazing and I had to fight back tears a little bit when we were watching the highlight video. I think about it every day and I think a lot of the guys do. It'll be something that I'll never forget."
All but one team member was able to attend the banquet. Parr had hoped to make it, but his final instructional league game was played at Chase Field, home of his parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, after the Diamondbacks were eliminated from the National League Division Series. That kept him from hopping on the red-eye flight home, but having a brother on the team proved beneficial as their parents, Cam and Sue Parr, were able to take Josh's ring home for him.
"I got my ring; it's in the display box," Parr said. "I got the DVD of the season highlights, too. I get so pumped up about things and initially I got more excited about the DVD than the ring. My mom had to remind me how cool the ring is. I had my own little ceremony in the living room. One thing that's great about Coach Hartleb is that he doesn't forget his players. He's a class-act coach, he's a class-act guy."
For all of the former players who returned to campus for the ring ceremony, it proved to be a fitting cap to the remarkable 2011 season and their careers.
"I loved my time here at Illinois," Kimes said. "I think the way it affected me the most was that it helped me grow up. My parents both say I've grown up a lot and they credit most of it to the baseball team."