Idle time is the enemy of Celestino “Sal” Rodriguez.
This spring, while playing baseball and taking classes at NCAA Division II Minot (N.D.) State University, Rodriguez also took up coaching.
“I like to stay busy,” said Rodriguez, a Marian Central graduate. “It was a great opportunity. Going out there and coaching was my free time. It was fun.”
He served as an assistant softball coach at Minot’s Bishop Ryan High School, which is led by Alec Grothe, a former teammate of Rodriguez with the MSU baseball program. Two other assistant coaches were former MSU softball players.
The staff enjoyed great success, helping the Lions claim third place in the state.
“I’d get home from a bus trip (to a road game), and I’d go over and coach,” Rodriguez said. “Trying to explain hitting to those players fine-tuned my skill set as well. They had a fantastic year.”
While helping the Beavers (34-16) to a school-record win total and their first Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in school history, Rodriguez was a major contributor.
The junior designated hitter batted .313 with nine homers, 11 doubles and a team-leading 47 RBIs.
“This season was me finally maturing as a baseball player,” Rodriguez said. “I changed my approach a little when it comes to hitting off-speed pitches. The pitches I want to hit aren’t the ones pitchers want to throw me. I had to learn that, and learn how to hit them.”
Last month, Rodriguez was named an honorable mention All-Central Region designated hitter by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He was a first-team All-NSIC selection, joining teammate Michael Borst (McHenry West), who earned a spot on the second team.
This summer, Rodriguez is playing away from home for the third consecutive year. After summers in collegiate leagues in South Florida and California, he is a member of the Medicine Hat Mavericks of the Canadian-based Western Major Baseball League.
“Everything they’ve done for us is pro level, top notch,” said Rodriguez, who has five RBIs in the team’s first 11 games. “I have buddies who played minor-league baseball, and everything they’re doing for us here is preparing us for that. We have everything from early work to player appearances.”
Rodriguez has embraced the busy schedule, even being featured in a video promoting the “Sal Burger” at Medicine Hat’s Athletic Park (a double cheeseburger with double mushrooms and extra onions).
“Some of the fans really like it, and they think it’s funny,” Rodriguez said. “My teammates definitely think it’s funny.”
Connecting with fans has given Rodriguez plenty of enjoyment.
“They put a sign-up sheet in our clubhouse to do player appearances,” he said. “The guys give me a hard time because I want to do them all. I like the opportunity to talk to kids at schools. I like playing with kids and talking to people in the community.
“I love being around the fans, even on the road when they’re chirping at us."
National honors for Crinigan: Alex Crinigan helped pitch Oakton Community College to the NJCAA Division III national title earlier this month.
On Monday, the school announced the sophomore pitcher was named to the NJCAA’s All-America first team.
Crinigan, a Hampshire grad, led the nation in wins (12), strikeouts (107) and innings pitched (98 1/3), setting school records in each category. Crinigan was the winning pitcher in the team’s championship-clinching victory against four-time defending champion Tyler (Texas) Junior College.
Tennis rankings for Warhawks: Crystal Lake Central grad Jillian Wallace finished her senior season at D-III Wisconsin-Whitewater ranked 15th in doubles in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association national rankings.
Wallace and her partner, Bridgid McGuire, finished 36-6 this season, including a 22-3 record at No. 1 doubles.
Wallace made her first career appearance at the NCAA individual national meet. She also helped Whitewater win its 17th straight Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and make the third round of the NCAA team event this spring.
What a relief: Huntley grad Nick Costantino had a team-high 10 saves this season for D-II Drury University in Missouri, the second-highest single-season total in school history.
Costantino, a junior right-handed pitcher, ranked second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference in saves and had a team-high 27 relief appearances while posting a 3-2 record with a 4.18 ERA. He struck out 19 batters in 28 innings while limiting opponents to a .240 batting average.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.