What a difference six months can make.
Late last year Carthage first baseman Jason Acevado wasn't even on a team. He was attending classes at Northern Illinois after transferring from Bradley, but a failed tryout with the Huskies left Acevado without a baseball home.
Acevado ended up at Carthage at the semester break and enjoyed one of the best hitting seasons in that school's history. The Red Men's season ended last Friday in the NCAA Division III Midwest Regional but it's safe to say that the squad's season-long national ranking and its 36-10 final record wouldn't have occurred without adding Acevado.
Acevado paced the squad in almost every offensive category in 2008, led by his.464 batting average. He also was tops in home runs (13), RBIs (66), hits (83), doubles (19), triples (six), runs (60), total bases (153), walks (27), at-bats (179), on-base percentage (.531) and slugging percentage (.855). He didn't lead the team in stolen bases, but he was still successful on all four of his attempts.
His season average is the fourth-highest in school history and he ended up in the school record books in several other statistical areas. His 150 total bases are second in school history for a season and his six triples tied for second all-time. The 81 hits are fourth-best for a single season, the 66 RBIs are fourth and the 60 runs and 18 doubles are sixth.
"It was kind of a last-minute thing but it was a great fit," said Acevado. "I went from not playing anywhere to being asked how I could help win games."
Despite Acevado not making it at Northern Illinois, Carthage head coach Augie Schmidt got a favorable recommendation from the Huskie staff, which led to Schmidt reaching out to Acevado. There were two other candidates for time at first base and the only guarantee given was that all three were told they'd see some action.
That changed very early in the 2008 season. During the team's season-opening win against Mt. Aloysius, the left-handed-hitting Acevado rifled a double to left field and felt something click. The swing he had always enjoyed was back.
The next day Acevado was moved up three spots in the batting order to No. 3 and the rest is history.
"The switch just turned on that day (in the season-opener) and I started really seeing the ball well," said Acevado. "I've always driven the ball to the opposite field when I'm going at my best. It felt like I had gone back to being the hitter I used to be."
Carthage was the last of four stops in Acevado's college baseball odyssey. He initially attended Lake County Community College for two years, where he hit .400 with four home runs and 63 RBIs during his sophomore season in 2006. That led to a scholarship offer at Bradley, where he played during the '07 campaign before his subsequent move to NIU. He received most of his playing time with the Braves at first base at the season's onset but only against right-handers.
Acevado finished the season batting .231 with no homers, nine driven in and only two extra-base hits. He played in 35 games, with 25 starts, but didn't face a left-handed pitcher the entire year.
He traces his struggles at Bradley not to physical shortcomings but to an altered mental approach.
"They tried to change my swing a bit and they had me trying to pull everything," recalls Acevado. "I didn't have any confidence at all. After changing my swing, I was thinking too much. You can't do that in baseball -- you just have to react and there were a lot of games where I didn't have a chance."
When Acevado got to Carthage, the staff told him there was nothing wrong with his swing and to simply hit like he always had.
Besides this return to normalcy, Acevado also cherished the looser team atmosphere he encountered at Carthage. There's more pressure on Division I teams to win and the top players have their minds set on playing professionally. Those elements, according to Acevado, can take a toll on team chemistry.
"Here, as long as the team wins, everyone is happy," he said. "At Bradley, if you had one bad game, you weren't sure you'd play the next day. We started the year with 24 straight wins (in 2008) and you never saw anyone in a bad mood, regardless of whether they were playing or not."
With Carthage's season over, when and if Acevado plays again is a real question. The Division III level isn't fertile ground for major league baseball scouts, so the future is murky at best. If he has played his last game, though, Acevado can look back on his college experience without a hint of disappointment.
Keeping up with ... Vernon Hills' Jason Acevado
ChicagoSports.com follows local high school athletes who have kept up their game after graduation
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.