From the ‘Sandlot’ of Metropolis to the lights of Itchy Jones: JT Weber reflects on journey to SIU
May 4, 2021
Three cities have marked the career of Saluki baseball junior outfielder J.T. Weber, the last being his current city of residence in Carbondale.
Weber, who studies civil engineering, grew up in Metropolis, IIl., and there was where he met fellow Saluki junior pitcher Noah Farmer.
“I remember playing AAU baseball with Noah, playing travel ball with him,” Weber said. “Just running around, hanging out together, we hung out all throughout high school. There’s a lot of good memories with sports and off the field too.”
Saturday mornings in high school for Weber and Farmer served as opportunities to take out their frustrations of the week on each other.
“Every Saturday morning in high school, we would meet up and we played paintball together,” Weber said. “Me, him, and some other guys would get together in the woods, run around and play paintball.”
When hearing the stories of both Farmer and Weber one might think of the movie Sandlot, where a group of friends would get together every day and play baseball.
“Our high school field was kind of a Sandlot vibe in itself, just a small high school, it’s an all dirt field, no lights or anything like that,” Weber said. “Outside of just practice and everything we never played any pickup, a lot of wiffle ball games at my house in the summer.”
From wiffle ball to baseball fields, Weber and Farmer have played together as early as the age of eight for the West Kentucky Outlaws, a travel baseball team located in Paducah, Ky.
“[We] play[ed] with our travel team when we were younger from the ages of like eight to 13, [it was] called the West Kentucky Outlaws,” Farmer said. “That was the first big baseball team I was involved with in terms of travel. We both played the outfield a lot.”
In high school, Weber and Farmer began playing for an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team in Nashville Tenn., called the Nashville Knights, there they found themselves also playing with junior infielder Grey Epps.
“I live with Grey now, and I’ve known Noah my whole life pretty much, we’re pretty close,” Weber said. “Being able to meet and play in summer ball at a high level at a young age was neat.”
In his time with the Knights, Weber played with several other athletes that ended up playing for several other division one schools in the NCAA for baseball.
“We had guys on our team that are at Vanderbilt now, guys that are at Baylor, guys that are at Tulane, some other guys at mid majors like Belmont,” Weber said. “Pretty much the whole team was going to be playing at the division one level or a higher level, D-II or junior college.”
His time with the Knights allowed for Weber to get the exposure he needed as an athlete to be seen by coaches in the NCAA.
“Exposure-wise it helped me a ton, always playing around college coaches,” Weber said. “Playing at a higher level and playing with teammates at a higher level was something that really boosted our level of play.”
Weber said that playing for the Knights is ultimately what landed him in Carbondale.
“I would not be here today if I did not go play for that team, I would say Noah and Grey could say the same,” Weber said. “Being from a small high school, to be honest with you, it doesn’t matter how well you do there. I think I probably hit around .400 in my career there. If I didn’t play for the Knights I don’t think I’d be here.”
Despite growing up in the Southern Illinois region, Weber at first did not see himself spending his college baseball years in Carbondale.
“I kind of wanted to play in the SEC from a younger age, as I got older I realized that probably wasn’t going to happen,” Weber said. “SIU wasn’t ever really in my mind, I had never thought about the baseball program much, just because I had not seen or heard about it a lot until I was about 16, one of the coaches saw me play.”
Weber arrived on campus at Southern as a freshman in 2018, having played third base and first base his first two years here, it was not until the COVID shortened season in 2019 that he moved to the outfield.
“I’ve alway kind of been a utility player, I’ve played everywhere on the field,” Weber said. “ I would say I can play anywhere on the field. I think it’s helped just being able to fit in the lineup wherever I’m needed.”
Since his Freshman year here in Carbondale in 2018, he has steadily raised his average as a hitter from .200 in 2018 to now hitting .302 as a fourth year junior due to the season being cancelled last year because of the pandemic.
His defensive production has improved as well: even though he’s been moved around a lot, his fielding average sits at .963 this season in left field and only two errors, compared to his freshman season playing mostly first base with an average of .710 and nine errors.
The outfield duo of both Weber and sophomore Tristan Peters together have accounted for four outfield assists on throws to home plate to get the runners out.
”He’s just been guiding me through too, he’s been with me the whole time,” Peters said. “He kind of lets me do what I’ve done, he’s seen that I’ve had success in the past.”
Weber, even in some of the tough games this season, has had a positive effect on Peters this season.
“Say we had a rough game, we’ve been hitting poorly, he’ll just remain positive which honestly just lifts you up,” Peters said. “Then you don’t get so down on the fact that we’re losing, he just makes it sound like we can win this game, even if we’re down a lot.”
From Metropolis, to Nashville, to Carbondale, if there’s one thing Weber could say to the freshman at Metropolis currently is to enjoy the process.
“I would just say to enjoy it , if they’re looking to play college baseball I would say you’re going to have to put in a lot of extra work, a lot of work on your own,” Weber said. “Go outside your comfort zone and play somewhere else where you can be seen and develop your skills.”
Sports Reporter Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.