J.T. Weber is having a historic season, but his eyes are on the team’s success

Metropolis native J.T. Weber is on pace to shatter several school records as the fifth-year baseball player enters the back half of his final season. But with his team 10-3 in the month of April, Weber has his eyes on an even greater prize.

“I really don’t have any personal statistics with that stuff. I’ve never really done that playing,” Weber said. “I just would like to stay consistent and just play every game and help the team win.”

On April 23, Weber hit his 15th home run of the 2022 season to move into a third-place tie with himself on the single season leader-board, having hit 15 in 2021 as well. He trails Jerry Miller, who hit 16 bombs in 1980, and former teammate Nick Neville, who led the 2021 Salukis with 17.


Weber’s 30 combined home runs across two seasons is the most by any Saluki in a two-year period. The late-career power surge has allowed Weber to close in on another all-time record: home runs in a Saluki career.

The aforementioned home run against Dallas Baptist put Weber’s career total at 32, only four behind Saluki Hall of Famer, Robert Jones in the top spot. Further accentuating the incredible run Weber is on is the fact that he is closing in on a career record, despite most of his home runs only coming in the last two years.

In the first three years Weber donned the maroon and white, he only hit a total of two home runs, both coming in his freshman year. Across a similar number of total at-bats, Weber has gone from averaging a home run every 157 at-bats, to just over one in every 12 at-bats. Just looking at his 2022 season, that number is even lower at one in every 10 trips to the plate.

“I never considered myself a home run hitter. I guess the last two years it’s just seemed to kinda happen out of nowhere,” Weber said of his sudden power surge.

Because Weber was on the team when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports in spring 2020, he received an additional year of eligibility. While this did not affect his career home run total much–Weber only played 18 games in 2020 and had zero home runs–it did afford him an extra year to develop. Few players are able to spend their entire career at a Division I program, and even fewer get the chance to spend five years at that level.

“A whole extra year to see pitching that you’ve seen for four years, is just really is huge,” Weber said. “Being able to be one year older and have another year of experience. It seems like it slows the game down a little bit more. I feel a lot more comfortable out there just because I have been here for four whole years. It’s a big asset.”

While a lot of attention has been given to Weber’s home run chase–and rightfully so, considering the historical context–Weber is focused on other parts of the game,  letting the baseball decide if it leaves the yard.


“I don’t worry about it too much, just try to hit the ball hard in the air and see what can happen,” Weber said.

The power aspect of Weber’s game may overshadow the rest of his tools at the plate, which are equally as impressive. Through 37 games in 2022, Weber’s slash-line is .403/.494/.738, ranking near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference in all three categories. His slugging percentage in particular is good for sixth in Division I among outfielders. Weber’s 58 hits is the 19th best in Division I–teammate Kaeber Rog is in seventh with 62.

“It’s been a good start that I’ve had,” Weber said. “I don’t tend to usually start off very hot. Usually it takes me a little bit to get going. But for this season, I got off to a good start, so I’m trying to stay with it and just stay hot while I can.”

Weber has cooled off slightly in the last few weeks; most notably, he hit only one home run over a nine-game stretch between April 5 and April 22. While some regression to the mean may be in order, Weber has set himself up well to hit those records with plenty of room to spare.

“Baseball’s a game of failure and a game of ups and downs, so you never know when your time’s gonna come when you’re gonna do well or do bad, so you just try to stay even-keeled,” Weber said.

Unlike most team sports, baseball does not reward individual play as much when it comes to the team’s performance. While a great basketball player can dictate every play, and a great quarterback can elevate an entire team, baseball players can only contribute when their turn in the order is up. However, the Salukis are getting the best of both worlds.

Southern Illinois currently sits as the top team in the Missouri Valley Conference in home runs, runs scored, RBIs, hits, slugging percentage and walks; as well as second in batting average and fewest strikeouts. This is a symptom of the offense under third-year head coach Lance Rhodes, which promotes stringing together solid at-bats and having big innings whenever possible.

“The past few years, it seems to be kind of a trend that we can really just have breakout innings and get the bats rolling. And once they get hot, everybody seems to pick up,” Weber said. “You hear the term, hitting is contagious, and I think that’s definitely true for our team.”

This prolific offense, led by Weber’s historic stretch, has allowed the Salukis to hold the best overall record in the conference at 27-10, as well as a 5-2 conference record that lingers near the top early in the Valley schedule.

For Weber, as well as many players, team success is the biggest goal of the season. The individual accomplishments and accolades will come, but all eyes are on what the team can do when the conference tournament comes in May.

“Our ultimate goal is to make a Regional,” Weber said at the beginning of the year. “We’d love to win conference, win the conference tournament, and make that happen. Number two is if we could finish top 1 or 2 in conference in the regular season and then win the conference tournament. That’s what we’re looking for.”

The Salukis most recently won a series on the road against a Dallas Baptist team that was ranked 23rd in the nation at the time. They have not lost a weekend series since conference play opened up at the beginning of April. But with such emphasis on the conference tournament, still a month away, the Salukis will need to maintain this stretch of success they’ve experienced if they want to accomplish what they feel they are capable of.

“Our best baseball is still yet to come,” Weber said. “I’m just looking forward to getting into that stretch where we can get into a stretch here at the end of the season and just play our best baseball going into, throughout conference and then leading into the conference tournament.”

The Salukis will continue their chase for a conference championship as they host Valparaiso at Itchy Jones Stadium for a three-game weekend series. They will wrap up the home-stand on May 3 against Murray State.

Staff reporter Brandyn Wilcoxen can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brandyn_2020. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.