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This much is certain: Purdue junior shortstop Mitch Hilligoss will soon be a farmhand.
Not long ago, the agricultural communication major seemed destined to get his Purdue Agriculture degree and return to work at his family’s 1,200-acre grain farm in downstate Illinois.
But by tearing up Big 10 pitching for the past two seasons, it now seems more likely that Hilligoss will be a farmhand for a Major League Baseball team long before he ever returns to the farm.
An All–Big 10 selection at shortstop last year, Hilligoss had the highest batting average on the Purdue baseball team (.404) and is doing even better this year. He’s a sure bet to be drafted during professional baseball’s annual star search June 6–9.
Hilligoss doesn’t like to talk about it. It’s not like a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter who’s afraid of jinxing himself; he just doesn’t like talking about himself, period.
“If it happens, it happens. But there’s no sense worrying about it,” Hilligoss says.
“He’s very humble,” says his coach, Doug Schreiber. “Plus, he’s pretty smart. He’s not going to worry about something he can’t control.”
The baseball draft is tougher to figure than calculus. For three days, 30 teams select 50 rounds of players. That’s 1,500 players, with no guarantee any of them will ever make it to a major league field. In fact, one of three players selected in the first round, the best of the best, never play an inning at the major league level.
“It’s a very hard thing to figure out,” Schreiber says, “with that many teams and that many selections. But it just takes one team to really like you.”
Schreiber is certain some team will like Hilligoss. It’s just a question of how much.
A high draft pick and big signing bonus, and Hilligoss will be on a minor league roster before you can say Babe Ruth. A low draft pick, and Hilligoss will most likely return to Purdue next year for another year of seasoning and feasting on college pitching.
“Obviously, we’d love to have him back next season,” Schreiber says, “but Mitch needs to do whatever is best for him and his family.”
Hilligoss says his biggest fans — his parents, Darrell and Elizabeth — have told him they don’t expect to see him back on the farm any time soon: “My dad told me, ‘Go play as much baseball as you can. The farm will still be here when you’re done.’”
Schreiber, who calls Hilligoss one of the very best players he has ever coached, says Purdue was lucky to recruit him as a high school player out of southern Illinois.
Hilligoss grew up a University of Illinois fan, but when the Fighting Illini didn’t make an offer, Schreiber swooped in and offered a Purdue scholarship.
“If you can’t go there,” Schreiber said, “why not do the next best thing and come here and help us beat them?”
Which is exactly what Hilligoss did last year, getting 3 hits in 5 at-bats, with a run scored and a run batted in, to help knock the Illini out of the Big 10 tournament in a 4-3, 11-inning win.
“Purdue has been a great place for me,” Hilligoss says, “the best place I could be.”
The big question is: For how much longer?
Contact Hilligoss at firstname.lastname@example.org