It didn’t take long for Brad Jelinek to land a spot in the starting lineup.
Following practices last fall, Tom Myers and the rest of the University of Central Missouri baseball coaching staff met with players, asking them how they felt the fall practices went and talking to them about their goals for the spring. Myers had big news for the freshman shortstop from Warsaw.
“He told me I won the starting position,” Jelinek said. “That was my goal was to go down there and start right away. I was on a mission. The big part is keeping it now. I need to stay focused and play to my potential to where he doesn’t have any second thoughts.”
Jelinek is hitting .241 for the 22-10 Mules.
“So far this year it’s gone really good,” he said. “We’re growing as a team every day. At the begin of the year we started off slow but we’re growing.”
A year after hitting .449 and being one of two Wildcats named All-State, along with Jeremy Eierman, Jelinek is getting used to the different pace of college baseball.
“Compared to Warsaw, the speed is faster when it comes to practices,” he said. “In games it’s just how it’s always been, especially after playing with Midwest Nationals the last two years. They helped me out a lot.”
His 20 hits so far this season include one home run, hit during the first game of a doubleheader sweep of Pittsburg State on March 9 in Warrensburg. During his junior and senior seasons in high school, Jelinek hit a total of one home run.
“Pitching compared to high school ball is way different,” he said. “These guys are the best players. Going to Central Missouri, everyone has us circled on their calendar. They’re older too. They’re more mature and they know what they need to do.”
Jelinek’s first career game as a college baseball player came on a Major League field. The Mules opened the season with four games at Minute Maid Park in Houston, the home of the Astros. Jelinek went 1 for 3 in the first game, a 5-4 loss to St. Mary’s, before going 1 for 1 with two walks and two runs scored the following day in a win over Henderson State.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Walking across the sidewalk and looking down on the field, the feelings overwhelmed me. That’s the ultimate goal is to play in the Major Leagues and here we were playing on that field and in front of all those fans. They treated us like Major Leaguers. We dressed in their clubhouse. They did our laundry. They fed us. They’re really good people.”
Until a 4-3 loss at Emporia State Monday, the Mules has an eight game winning streak. Now 19-5 in conference, Central Missouri will open a four-game series at home against Lindenwood with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Mules lead Central Oklahoma by two games in the MIAA standings and have an eye set on next month’s conference tournament and beyond.
“We all have one goal, to win a national championship,” Jelinek said. “Our coach preaches that. We never take one pitch off.”