ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –The Rockford Rivets will be the Fighting Illini of the North this summer. Four current Fighting Illini baseball players are suiting up for the team.
All four of them could be starting on the infield at some point this season. Brandon Comia at shortstop, Cam McDonald at third base, Brody Harding at second base, and Ryan Hampe at catcher. And there’ also former Illini pitcher Jimmy Burnette who now pitches for Saint Leo University.
“It’s awesome. It’s almost like we’re at school,” said McDonald.
(Branden Comia, Rivets Shortstop) “I was telling my parents this is was probably the most excited I’ve ever been to play baseball,” said Comia. “I’ve known Cam since I was 12. I’ve known Ryan since I was like ten, and Jimmy and Brodie obviously. I love those guys, so I’m really excited to be out here.”
“We’re extemely thankful for the relationship that we have with the University of Illinois first and foremost,” said Rivets manager Josh Keim. “For them to send us guys like Branden, Cam, Brody and Ryan Hampe who’s going there, we’re thankful for that relationship we have with that coaching staff.”
The Illini guys were looking for a big spring in Champaign this year after the Illini won 36 games and appeared in the NCAA Regional Tournament last year, but the coronavirus cut short their season after only 13 games.
“It was definitely a big bummer,” said Comia. “We had a lot of plans to go out and do bigger and better things. A lot of our guys returned and kind of had a feel for what a regional was like.”
“It sucked because we were really young this year,” said McDonald. “We had a lot of guys get drafted last year and we just started to put it together right when the season ended.”
Comia and McDonald were both with the Rivets last year. Comia played some slick defense at shortstop. This May D1Baseball rated him the ninth best college shortstop in the nation and the second best underclassman at that position.
“It’s definitely nice to always be recognized, but the type of person I am I know there’s always something more to get,” said Comia. “You can always get better. I’ve never been the type that’s been complacent.”
“I’ve told him since the day he’s got here he’s the best shortstop in this league,” said Keim.
McDonald, in 2019 as a freshman led the Illini with 34 RBIs. With the Rivets last season he had a .281 batting average and he drove in 19 runs. So what will he be focused on with the Rivets this year?
“The biggest thing is helping the team win and having quality at bats and finally seeing live (pitching) again.”
Hardy started all 13 of the Illini’s games this spring at second base as a freshman. In high school at Moline last year he was the second ranked shortstop in Illinois.
Hempe showed a lot of promise this spring batting .413 at John A. Logan College before the season was called off. He has transferred to Illinois.
The Rivets will open their season Wednesday evening at 6:05 p.m. at Rivets Stadium in Loves Park against the La Crosse Loggers.