JOLIET – TJ Condon admits he was not doing well in school. That’s why he did not play baseball last spring at Joliet Junior College.
Now the 2012 Minooka graduate has turned the page.
If things break right for JJC the rest of the season, if the Wolves earn a trip to the NJCAA Division II World Series and have some success there, Condon could be in the discussion for Division III Player of the Year. The freshman catcher is enjoying that kind of season.
The Wolves won the weekend’s three-team, double-elimination sectional event to advance to next weekend’s best-of-three Region IV sectional championship series at Schaumburg, Condon went 5 for 12, knocked in four runs and is hitting .438 with an .486 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage hovering around .700.
Many of the other Wolves, including Condon’s Minooka teammates Nick Fleischauer and Tyler Thorson, are sporting batting averages that are nearly as high. And several are close in the race to lead the team in on-base percentage.
But Condon, with 14 doubles, seven triples and three home runs among 64 hits, is the ring leader in terms of slugging. Any time you slug .700 and throw an OPS of nearly 1.200 on the resume, to go with 44 RBIs, it does not go unnoticed.
“TJ is one of those kids who just goes out and plays,” Fleischauer said. “He is a pure athlete and a great kid. He has always been a leader. It was that way at Minooka.”
“After I took the year off when I wasn’t doing well in school, I worked hard all summer,” Condon said, offering an explanation for this spring’s success. “Our coaches work real well with us. We work our butts off, and it’s paying off.”
Indeed, JJC (39-17) has been winning consistently since returning from the season-opening southern trip. The Wolves haven’t always looked pretty, but the offense has been there consistently.
“We have a lineup where there is always somebody getting hot,” Condon said.
JJC coach Wayne King said the combination of Colton Trager and Condon, in the 4-5 spots in the lineup, have done a yeoman’s job all season.
“TJ is hungry, that’s the big thing about him,” King said. “He messed up in the classroom, and he worked his butt off to get back where he is. He was very disappointed he couldn’t play last year.”
Condon, Fleischauer, Thorson, Alex Bebar, Steve Wittkamp and starting pitchers Josh Jiminez and Kevin Ruff all were members of the Minooka team that finished fourth in the 2012 Class 4A state tournament at Silver Cross Field.
“All my Minooka guys being here, that gives me more of a connection,” Condon said. “It’s fun to catch [Jiminez and Ruff].”
Of course, saying Condon is having fun with the game is an understatement.
In Saturday’s 6-5 sectional escape over DuPage, he led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a double and went belly-flopping around the bases to score the tying run.
The first flop came on the head-first slide into second as he legged out a double, beating the throw on a close play. Then when Fleischauer singled up the middle, Condon went headlong into the dust at third base while the ball was in center field. He finally scrambled to his feet and headed home, scoring with another head-first dive.
It appeared Condon approached third base thinking Fleischauer’s ground ball had been fielded by a middle infielder. But that was not the case.
“When I was getting to third base, I tripped and was sort of falling. I didn’t want to just fall, so I made it look like I was sliding in,” Condon said with a smile.
“Then when I ran for home, [Ron Sessler, the next batter] told me to get down, so I did. I could have stayed up and scored, but I did what he said.”
It was a fun play, the type that seems to involve Condon. He is back where he feels he belongs, making things happen on the diamond.