Transfer Portal, New Faces Breathe New 2023 Opportunities into Illinois Baseball

Over the past decade, the scope of collegiate athletics has evolved significantly. While the majority of college sports coverage is devoted to men’s basketball and soccer, the transfer portal is a big factor in every sport.

It’s no different for baseball, and in Illinois, despite returning nearly two dozen players from the previous season, the team still has a mix of transfer players from around the country.

One such transfer is Christian Smith, a redshirt freshman outfielder who originally signed up with the Vanderbilt Commodores out of high school. The Atlanta native didn’t appear in a game for the Commodores, however, and instead opted to step into the portal and join the Illini.

“It’s been different in some ways,” Smith said. “Traveling four weekends in a row is a bit different from what I’ve been used to since last year.

However, the similarities are still there for Smith, who enjoys the college baseball experience. Coming from Atlanta and Nashville, Champaign-Urbana was a very different environment for the outfielder.

“It’s definitely colder and there’s a lot less going on,” Smith said. “I’m from the city and at Vandy’s I was also in town. I’ve been much more focused and focused on baseball here, being here has been good for me.

Senior outfielder Danny Doligale, one of the most experienced players on the roster, has been on the team since 2020. As one of the oldest players, Doligale spoke about the value of that experience.

“It’s good that we have a lot of experience in the squad,” Doligale said. “It can help our youngsters eventually be the leaders they want to be on this team, and it can help them be a leader this year.”

The transfer portal has allowed players to control their careers in a way never seen before. If it benefits the teams a lot, it also has its drawbacks.

“I think it’s exciting that we keep bringing in new guys who want to be here and who want to win,” Doligale said. “It sucks to lose guys, but I think it’s good to bring in new guys who are ready to work and want to be here.”

Baseball is, like softball, a unique sport for college athletes, as it happens to be one of the most mobile sports. The team has been on the road since the start of the season in mid-February.

“It’s been exciting to go on the road,” Doligale said. “But it’s also good that it’s finally over and we can play at home in front of our fans.”

Luckily for the Illini, this season’s opening road trip is the longest time they will play away from home. The Illini will be on a four-game homestand after this road trip.

“I’m (looking forward) to being home next week,” Smith said. “Seeing the home crowd is going to be fun for us, we’re going to enjoy it.”

Thanks to road trips and new additions, these Illini have plenty of time and new faces to learn and grow with.

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