Goss: Minooka’s Condon a good kind of goofy
June 6, 2012 6:26PM
Minooka's T.J. Condon. | File photo
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:41PM
He was penciled in as maybe the No. 5 pitcher on the staff, pretty much a repeat of his role as a junior. But that wasn’t good enough for Minooka senior TJ Condon.
So over the winter he attended workouts in the gym on a mission. He wanted to show his coaches he could play every day, that he could handle a pitching staff.
He worked extremely hard, and look at him now. Condon will be the starting catcher and No. 3 hitter when Minooka battles defending state champion Lyons at 5 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament at Silver Cross Field.
“TJ is one of the most shocking kids I have seen,” Minooka ninth-year coach Jeff Petrovic said. “We were expecting him be the No. 5 pitcher. Now he’s our No. 1 catcher, No. 3 hitter and a guy I want up with the game on the line. He has grown up so much.”
When he says Condon has grown up, Petrovic speaks with the ultimate admiration.
“When he was a freshman, I thought I was going to strangle this kid,” Petrovic said. “Other coaches said, ‘This kid is going to drive you crazy.’ Now I love him to death. He is one of my all-time favorite kids.
“He still has that little bit of goofiness about him, but he knows when to be serious. The kind of fire he has, I haven’t seen that in a long time in some our guys. He wants to win as much as anyone.”
Attitude is one thing. Condon still had to prove he could catch a quality staff.
In the gym over the winter, he caught Mike Foltynewicz, the Minooka graduate who was the No. 1 draft pick of the Houston Astros in 2010 and is toiling on the Class A level.
Foltynewicz has the power arm, which was his ticket to becoming a No. 1 pick. But he also can snap off wicked breaking balls, which he did at Condon’s expense and, simultaneously, to his betterment.
“I can’t even explain how that was, the way he bounces his curves,” Condon said of the 55-footers Foltynewicz threw. “He apologized to me afterward for beating me up. But I think that showed the coaches I was serious about it.”
“To be honest, it was TJ who changed everything,” Petrovic said. “We were set on our catcher (junior Dan Colvin), and at first I thought TJ could more or less rotate between first base and catcher (which Condon did through the early portion of the season).
“But TJ caught Folty and blocked everything. I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ And then I watched him take grounders and hit in the cage, and I said, ‘This kid is really good.’ ”
Through the second half of the season, the catching job has been his.
Oh, he’s still goofy, but in a positive way.
“TJ overcame his goofiness, and we realized he is a serious talent,” Petrovic said. “It took the winter and catching the bullpen with Folty to notice things. Some kids on the team had expressed to me that this kid can do it. Between the birds chirping in my ear and me taking a closer look at him, it came together.”
Veteran Minooka pitching coach Jim Lamping appreciates what Condon has done for his proteges. “TJ has been fantastic behind the plate,” he said. “Teams can’t run on him because he has a great arm, and he blocks everything.”
Condon said his return to playing every day has given him a new appreciation for the game.
“I used to play in the field, but I didn’t realize then how every little thing on every pitch can affect the outcome,” he said. “I see that now.”
Condon is no slouch with the bat, either. He is hitting .339 (37-for-109) with six doubles, three home runs and 26 RBI. The Indians (27-13) have six regulars hitting above .300, and Condon’s RBI total ranks second behind junior Joe Carnagio’s 29.
“One day in the middle of the season I looked at the lineup in the dugout, and there I was my name next to No. 3,” Condon said. “That was pretty cool. I was kind of shocked. I’ve been there since.
“I like hitting there, but wherever I hit, I try to concentrate at the plate. I don’t want to be freaking out up there.”
Condon said he can’t wait for the state semifinals.
“We’re hot right now,” he said. “Our fans will be there and they are going to be ecstatic. I anxious to get it started.
“I played in the Victory Baseball program, and we won big tournaments in Omaha. But this is a different kind of exciting. I couldn’t ask for a better senior year.”
Next spring, Condon will continue his baseball career under national champion coach Wayne King’s tutelage at Joliet Junior College.
“I’m looking forward to playing for coach King,” he said. “I have heard good things about him.”
“Wayne will be just tremendous for TJ,” Petrovic said. “He can father you and be tough when he needs to be. TJ and I really clicked well, and Wayne can foster a lot of the same things for him.”