GIFFORD — The first true foray into Eastern Illinois League baseball could not have gone much better for Storm Joop.
Having been on scholarship for the University of Indianapolis the last four years, Joop only played in a handful of games for Gifford-Flatville in the past, spending most of his summer circuits with summer collegiate teams.
But having recently graduated and with no more eligibility left, Joop joined the E.I. ranks this summer in a full-time capacity and took the league by, dare we say it … storm.
Joop last Monday was selected as the Ralph Loschen Most Outstanding Player and earned the Dick Franzen Batting Champion award after swatting .481 with 17 RBIs, one home run, seven doubles and 12 runs scored. On the mound, he picked up two saves while striking out seven batters through 6 1/3 innings pitched.
"It’s a great honor and definitely very cool," Joop said of winning the award. "Obviously, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates and coaches and everything. It’s been a lot of fun this summer."
Joop was a four-year baseball starter at St. Thomas More, where he served as the Sabers’ shortstop, and won The News-Gazette’s Area Player of the Year as a quarterback on the football team in 2013.
Joop then earned a scholarship for the Greyhounds in Indy, playing third base and first base prior to graduating a few months ago.
"We’ve had a pretty good track record in the past," Joop said of the Greyhounds. "Last year, we made it to the championship of our conference tournament, but we did lose that. But we’ve had a pretty good four years since I’ve been there and (good years in the past)."
Once his college playing career was over, though, Joop was convinced to come play for Gifford by Mike and Dan Plecki.
Joop has known Mike Plecki, the younger brother of Dan, since kindergarten and played with him at STM before Mike — last year’s E.I. League Most Outstanding Player award winner — continued his playing career at Illinois Wesleyan. And Dan Plecki, the Giflats’ player/manager, slotted Joop back into his natural position.
"Shortstop’s the best. That’s my position. I love it. I’ve grown up with Mike Plecki for a while, and they know I play shortstop, so that’s where (Dan) put me," Joop said. "Dan and Mike told me to come on out and play with them, and I said, ‘Why not? Might as well.’ Those are my boys. We’ve done pretty well so far, so we’ve just got to keep it rolling for the tournament coming up."
The Giflats (15-6) earned the league tournament’s No. 1 overall seed but fell in the first round to No. 4 seed Paxton.
"It’s been awesome," Joop said. "It’s always nice when you’re winning and having fun. We’ve got a pretty good group of guys where we go out and have fun, but we also play hard, which has shown in our record. … It’s a lot of fun. We’re always joking around, but we also take it pretty seriously. Nobody thinks they’re ‘That guy,’ or ‘The man,’ or anything like that. If we’re asked to put a bunt down, we’ll put a bunt down. We’re there for each other."
With the Giflats' success this summer, Joop said there probably won’t be any shifts in strategy for the playoffs.
"For us, it’s one game, one pitch, one play at a time mentality," Joop said. "As long as we stick to that, we should be all right. To be honest, I don’t think (we’ll switch up any strategies). It’s worked pretty well so far. I don’t think we need to mix it up or anything."
Joop only has one dinger on his resume this summer, so going deep just once sticks out above some of the other memories from this season.
"I guess the only (accomplishment) that sticks out is I hit a home run in one of the games this summer against Buckley, but that’s about it," Joop said. "I’d say (home runs are rare). I’m more of an average guy, but I’ll pop one out every once in a while.
"At this point, (all the memories from the games) kind of have all rolled into one. But we’re kind of a comeback team. We’ve been down a lot of runs before, and we just find a way to get it done, to be honest. That’s always great."
Once the E.I. League season wraps up, Joop will set his sights on the next step in his career — coaching. He will be leaving Aug. 23 or 24 to begin his role as a graduate assistant coaching the infielders and hitters.
"I’ve never been an actual coach for a team before, so it should be interesting," Joop said. "It should be fun, though. A lot of fun."
So … are there any nerves?
"Yes, actually," Joop said. "It’ll be kind of weird because I lived with some of the guys that are still on the team, so there’s that. I’m a little nervous, but it should be fun and should be a good time. I’m excited for it."
"I hope they listen to me. They better, right?" Joop said with a laugh. "But, no, I think they will. We’re going to have a good time and a good season."
Contact Zack Carpenter at email@example.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.