08/11/2017 2:18 PM -
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 11, 2017
The Steel Yard is a well-known landmark along the Indiana Toll Road. It catches the eye of many travelers, especially baseball enthusiasts, as they drive through Northwest Indiana. A few years ago, the 6,139-seat facility was certainly noticeable to a Wisconsin teenager named Colin Willis.
“When I was coming [to Northwest Indiana] to get recruited . . . at [Purdue North Central], I drove past the Steel Yard,” said Willis. “I knew a little bit about the Gary RailCats, but I didn’t really know too much. But I saw the stadium and I knew someday I wanted to play there.”
After having a Hall-of-Fame career at Purdue-North Central, Willis got his chance. He signed with the RailCats in August of 2016. He appeared in 11 games down the stretch for the RailCats and had nine hits—and three extra base hits—in 39 at bats and had five RBI.
Willis, who celebrates his 25th birthday on Monday, was re-signed in January and was not guaranteed a roster spot for 2017. After a solid spring training, manager Greg Tagert gave him a roster spot and has been the furthest from a disappointment. Through 64 games, Willis leads the team in home runs (7), batting average (.329), and is second in RBI (38).
He currently has a six-game hitting streak and has gotten a hit in seven of his last eight games amassing a total of 13 hits during that span. His season-batting average has been elevated 15 points from .314 to .329 since the last week of July, and Willis knows he needs to continue producing.
“Every game you play matters at this point. Especially in August. That’s when the pressure really hits and that’s when you really need to step it up, or you fold to the pressure,” he said. “I’m just doing whatever I can to step up to the plate, and make good at bats.”
The outfielder says that focusing on the game of baseball is the key to success, both on the field and off the field. He understands that there is a time to be relaxed, but that should not distract him from the objective.Even on days that he is not in the lineup, Willis does not consider those days to be off days.
“I [am ready to] come in late innings, ready for a pinch-hit opportunity at any moment. So I never take it as an off day, but I take it more as a rest day and prepare for tomorrow,” said Willis. “It’s never an off day. It’s always [a day that I need to be] ready to go at any moment.”
Willis is a unique player in the fact that he bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He is naturally right-handed, which he believes helps him with his lefty swing because he is “. . . able to stay through balls a lot better with a strong right arm."
A perk of playing relatively local is that he has family and friends that attend RailCats games throughout the season. Since his hometown of Sheboygan, Wisconsin is just shy of 200 miles away from the Steel Yard, his family attends games regularly. He also has local friends from college that attend games frequently.
“I have a really good support group,” said Willis. “I love the local support that we get from our fans, it really does mean a lot to me.”
One of Willis’ favorite memories as a RailCat thus far was the series opener against Cleburne in July. In that game, he hit a three-run home run with two outs in the ninth to tie the game and then won the game in the 11th on a walk-off double. Moments like this make it seem that the professional career that Willis envisioned on I-90 years ago could not be playing out any better.
The RailCats head north for the start of a three-game series vs. Fargo-Moorhead on Friday at 7:02 p.m. Neither team has announced their starter for the series opener.
Gary returns home to U.S. Steel Yard on Tuesday, August 15th for a three-game series vs. the Sioux Falls Canaries. Tuesday’s game is another CHN and Taco Tuesday. Visit your local NW Indiana Community HealthNet location for a complimentary reserved seat ticket to every CHN Tuesday game, and don’t forget about our $2 beef tacos specials.
Jared Shlensky and Austin Anderson bring you all 100 RailCats games this season on WEFM (95.9 FM) and online at railcatsbaseball.com. Fans can purchase tickets for RailCats home games by calling (219) 882-BALL or online at railcatsbaseball.com. The RailCats box office is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
A day at U.S. Steel Yard is non-stop fun, and that's even without the baseball! The RailCats promise a wide array of laugh-out-loud between inning entertainment, great giveaways, jaw-dropping fireworks and a family-first, kid-friendly atmosphere! RailCats fans come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and the RailCats promise every fan will have fun.
U.S. Steel Yard
One Stadium Plaza
Gary, IN 46402