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Patiently practicing: Redbird ready to get back on base

Player swinging bat

Former Illinois State baseball player John Rave, now a member of the Kansas City Royals organization, is dealing with his first spring without baseball since he was a toddler.

The last time John Rave had a springtime without baseball he was barely beyond his toddler years.

With much of the world shut down due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), including professional sports, Rave finds himself back home in Central Illinois. That’s not what the business administration major and former Redbird outfielder who is now a member of the Kansas City Royals organization expected during what is typically peak baseball season.

The Royals picked Rave, 22, a left-handed outfielder, in the fifth round of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) 2019 Draft. He reported to rookie ball in Burlington, North Carolina, for 15 games before getting bumped up to single-A at Lexington, Kentucky. Rave was the starting center fielder and helped Lexington win the South Atlantic League championship. He got a ring in his first professional season.

This year was his first spring training. Eager to get started, he arrived at camp early. The stay-at-home order put a temporary halt to his baseball journey. “I was in Arizona when we got the word,” Rave said. “The Royals were the last team left when MLB intervened and told everyone to evacuate to their homes.”

With the baseball season on hold, what’s a minor league ballplayer to do? Back in Bloomington-Normal, Rave is enjoying the home cooking of his mom, Susan Rave ’90, and keeping busy staying in shape until things get back on track.

“The Royals are sending out different types of workouts for us,” said Rave, who was a multi-sport athlete at Central Catholic High School. “And I have access to batting cages, so I can keep everything fine-tuned.”

He’s lifting weights and also keeping up on his cardio, running a mile or two as a warmup four or five times a week. Rave is also staying in touch with the team through video conferencing technology.

“The Royals use Zoom so coaches can make sure everyone is getting their work done,” Rave said. “Sometimes it could be a large group of hitters, but we even have our front office guys hop on, even our general manager.”

If not for this historic interruption, Rave would likely know where his next assignment is by now. His guess is that he might be headed back to Lexington, which he said was a great place to play, or he could get promoted to Wilmington in the Carolina League.

For now, with his first year of professional baseball complete and having adjusted to using a wooden bat, Rave plans to keep preparing for this second season with all of its unknowns.

“I’m working on every aspect of the game,” he said, including “having a better approach, swinging at better pitches, better counts—the mental aspect of the game.”

He’s still connected at Illinois State to current players and to four former teammates who were also drafted last year: Joe Aeilts to the Colorado Rockies, Brent Headrick to the Minnesota Twins, Jeff Lindgren to the Miami Marlins, and Matt Walker to the Detroit Tigers. ISU’s head baseball coach Steve Holm and assistant head coach Wally Crancer also still provide moral support.

“They’re really laid back guys, and they both check in on me,” Rave said. “They both played professionally and have been through the process.” Holm is a former big leaguer and Crancer played in the minor leagues.

They are not Rave’s only ongoing connection to ISU. Having been drafted after his junior year, he still plans to complete his bachelor’s degree in the College of Business when time allows.

“I’m about a year from finishing,” he said. “It’s important to me and to my mom.”