CHAMPAIGN – Illinois baseball coach Itch Jones will need to replace yet another starting outfielder next season after learning that Joe Parenti will not return for his final year.
Parenti, a three-year starter in right, recently decided against playing in 2004 because of persisting arm problems that first flared up late last season.
Jones said he''s been aware for months that the fifth-year senior might call it a career early.
"I felt Parenti''s decision was coming when he left campus in the spring," the UI coach said Wednesday.
Parenti''s departure means the Illini must fill two openings in the outfield next year. The other is in center, where the graduated Brandon Cashman started the past two seasons. Junior Drew Davidson, a two-year starter in left, returns.
Parenti plans to apply for a medical hardship, which would allow him to retain his scholarship. The Buffalo Grove High grad is enrolled this semester and remains on track to graduate next spring. If the medical hardship is granted, that would allow Illinois to award the aid Parenti was receiving to another player.
The Arlington Heights native already had used his one allowable redshirt season when he suffered a broken foot after playing in only eight games in 2001.
Parenti emerged as Illinois'' regular right fielder as a freshman, hitting .314 while appearing in 57 games and starting 41. Following his foot injury, however, the right-handed hitter and thrower never again approached the hitting production he''d provided in his first year at Illinois. Parenti batted.259 in 2002 and .236 last season.
He finished his Illini career with a .266 batting average, eight home runs and 70 RBI.
One aspect of Parenti''s game that never wavered, however, was his defense. The speedy Parenti drew praise for his strong throwing arm, ability to cover a wide range of the field, and adeptness at contending with Illinois Field''s uniquely difficult elements in right field. That area has long been considered the toughest defensive spot at UI''s home park, primarily because the sun is directly in the vision of the right fielder as it sets.
"I thought he did a great job for us in right field," Jones said. "He threw very well and played a tough sun field, and his ability to do that was a big plus for us."
Finding a replacement – or at least identifying the legitimate candidates – will be a priority when the Illini gather for fall practice.
"What we''ll do is take our new kids and put them in right every chance we can," Jones said, "just so they learn to fight that sun and wind we have so that during the season they''ve become a little more accustomed to it."
Besides Davidson, two other returnees made starts in the outfield last season: senior Vince DiMaria and sophomore Trevor Huisinga. Junior college transfers Ryan Rogowski (John A. Logan) and Robert Sullivan (Joliet) are expected to contend for playing time, while sophomore Josh Baker also could be in the outfield mix.
If the need arises, Jones said he also would take a look at infielders like freshman Shawn Roof or sophomore Brandon Cody in the outfield.
"If they started hitting real well and somebody in the outfield was struggling, I think we''ve got some kids who are good enough athletes that they could make that move," Jones said.
Baseball tryouts set
Jones and his staff will hold open tryouts on Monday at Illinois Field.
Candidates for the team must be full-time students at the UI this semester and should go to the Irwin Academic Center on campus to sign up and fill out paperwork. The deadline is 4 p.m. Friday.
Players should report to Illinois Field by 9:30 a.m. Monday. The session will begin at 10 a.m. Bats, balls and catcher''s gear will be provided. Players will be responsible for bringing all other necessary equipment, including spikes and gloves.
You can reach Jeff Huth at (217) 351-5384 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.