Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: May 13, 2018

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: May 13, 2018

Josh Klimek, whose name is most closely associated with home runs in the Illinois baseball record book, set a Big Ten record in another category 22 years ago today.

In a May 20, 1996 game against Chicago State, Cougar pitchers wisely avoided the UI slugger by walking him an Illinois Field record four times. This, of course, occurred during a season in which Klimek would slam a record 26 home runs, seven more than the 19 Forry Wells had hit in 1994 and the 19 Scott Spiezio belted in 1992. Entering today's game at Michigan, current Illini junior Bren Spillane has 20 home runs in 2018.

A multi-sport star at St. John Vianney High School in St. Louis, Klimek had baseball scholarship offers from Michigan State, Clemson and UCLA, and a combined baseball/soccer offer from St. Louis University.

During his big season in 1996, Klimek said he remembered no one particular home run above the other.

"What stood out to me were the hot streaks I got in," he said. "I think I had a stretch of six or seven games where I hit at least one. I was always more of a gap-to-gap hitter with some decent power, but never hit with this much power in one season."

In eight minor league seasons, primarily spent with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Klimek hit 80 home runs, but at age 28, decided to leave baseball before he was able to reach the majors.

"Once you start reaching that certain age and haven't made it yet, your chances diminish," he said. "I could have continued to play but I had a semester at the U of I to complete in order to graduate. It was something I really wanted to do and it was going to be easier the younger I was."

Klimek was able to complete his degree in sports marketing and soon after became a product coordinator at Midwest Bankcentre in St. Louis. He and his girlfriend, Rachel, have two dogs.

Klimek’s favorite home-run hitters:
1. Darryl Strawberry – “He was my guy growing up. Smooth swing with power.”
2. Ken Griffey Jr. – “Sweet lefty swing.”
3. Albert Pujols – “Best all-around hitter of my generation. Consistent.”
4. Mark McGwire – “Pure power, with or without help.”
5. Barry Bonds – “Great short swing.”
6. Stan Musial – “I admired the way he modestly played the game.”
7. Fred McGriff – “Nice lefty swing.”
8. David Ortiz – “His massive hack/swing and glowing personality.”
9. Chipper Jones – “Great switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate.”
10.  Alex Rodriguez – “Great all-around hitter.”

Illini Birthdays:
Today: Pete Friedl, wrestling (35)
Monday: Larry Sutton, baseball (48)
Tuesday: Morgan O’Brien, volleyball (19)
Wednesday:  Eric Wills, gymnastics (40)
Thursday: Jeff Finke, football (50)
Friday: Kevin Anderson, tennis (32)
Saturday: Molly Hein, swimming (20)
 
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores).  Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.