Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Dominique Martinez-Powell | dmartinez_powell.photography
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Saluki Baseball rebuilds with new load of transfers

Saluki+Baseball+rebuilds+with+new+load+of+transfers

If you’ve been following Saluki baseball during head coach Lance Rhodes’ tenure, you know that every year is going to bring another round of new faces.  

While this may not seem any different then any sport, Rhodes’ teams have a bit more turnover than others. The current team has only one player that started his career as a freshman at SIU, Cade Carter, and there are also zero players who aren’t juniors or seniors.

This means that there is serious roster turnover every season, with the 2024 roster being no exception; 23 new players will suit up for the Salukis this season. Rhodes isn’t deterred by it; it’s what he and his staff want to build.

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“We’re looking for a roster that can continually stay mature, to have a roster that has a bunch of college at-bats or college innings under their belt already. That can make the learning curve of playing Division 1 baseball a little shorter,” Rhodes said.

This approach to team building makes players like Carter, a fourth year pitcher, even rarer. But southern Illinois native Carter didn’t even start his collegiate athletic career as an SIU baseball player.

“Originally, I came here as a football player,” Carter said.  “I previously had some connections with the pitching coach here at the time, Tim Jamison, so I reached out to him after I decided I was going to move away from football.”

Searching for any chance to find his way onto the team, Carter asked if there was any chance if he could get an open tryout

Carter said, “I was lucky enough, they gave me the opportunity to come try out for the team… I went out there, took some batting practice, threw with coach Rhodes, fielded a little bit, did some ground ball work. And [Rhodes] called me back, actually about a week later, and told me that I had a spot on the team.”

Senior outfielder Mathieu Vallee had a bit of a different path to SIU. Vallee is originally from Saint-Joseph-Du-Lac, Québec, where he even played on the Academy Baseball in Canada [ABC]. Baseball in Canada had its differences, though.

“When I was in high school, we would be inside for like six months a year… The facilities here, and just being able to do so much stuff in a day, it’s crazy to me,” Vallee said.

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Despite a standout high school career and being one of the best prospects in Québec, Vallee only received one offer: Northeastern Oklahoma.

“It was pretty much my only offering, because one of my best friends had played there the year before me. So otherwise, I would have been done with baseball,” Vallee said.

It proved to be a good decision for both Vallee and NEO; in his two years there, he batted .426 and was an All-Region and All-Region Gold Glover. 

After a year at Dallas Baptist University, Vallee was again on the move. SIU, with its efforts led by Rhodes and hitting coach/recruiting coordinator Brett Peel, had called him when he was in the portal the year before, so they were a familiar factor. A friendly face on SIU also helped Vallee in his decision.

“I think the fact that I knew PO [former Saluki outfielder Pierre-Olivier Boucher] a little bit before that helped a lot,” Vallee said.

Boucher also was able to sell the environment of SIU.

Vallee said, “I decided to come here because PO was telling me about how good of a place it was, and all the coaches and how all the other guys were, so I knew this was going to be a great decision.”

Part of SIU being the destination that it is for baseball players is the culture that they’ve instilled. Rhodes says that the coaching staff works to keep certain ideals in place from year to year.

“We have our standards and our expectations that we want everybody in our program to abide by… we know what we expect out of each individual person, and we’re going to hold everyone to a high standard,” Rhodes said. 

According to Rhodes, “you kind of got to start over every year, and that’s ok.”

He said having a bunch of new players from different teams mean they’ve been taught a bunch of different ways.

“You bring them in here and you try to have them learn the system… and getting everybody on the same page, and then trying to build the relationships off the field to where our guys are comfortable around each other and building that tight knit culture,” Rhodes said. “It’s a fun process. It’s a lengthy process, but it’s fun.”

Returning players, even if they’re only in year two, also play a critical role in constructing culture.

“We have our returners, who know those expectations from previous seasons and help those new guys along the way and just continue to hold everybody up to a level of excellence that is going to help us win a championship,” Rhodes said.

As the most tenured player by multiple years, Carter is uniquely positioned to do this.

Rhodes said, “He knows the expectations of our program, whether it’s in the classroom, on the field, and just helps instill those values that we want all our players to have, and to all the new players that are around him every single year.”

Carter is stepping into this role seamlessly, providing a valuable voice of experience from a player’s perspective.

“I feel like I’m comfortable here now, and I’ve got an understanding of… what it takes to win, so I feel like I’ve been able to be a good resource to the new guys coming in and kind of what’s expected of them. And then if they need help with anything, I’m always there to offer a hand,” Carter said.

Culture is largely made up of the relationships that players have with each other. Carter thinks that this team, though they haven’t been together long, has formed a  strong connection.

“It’s really neat seeing a bunch of guys coming together from different parts of the world and just meshing as a cohesive unit,” Carter said. “I think this year’s group has been the best team that I’ve been a part of as far as everyone really gets along and enjoys each other’s presence. It’s just a good group of guys to be around.”

Vallee thinks that the shared experience as transfers plays into the bond many players feel.

“Even this year, there’s not really like new guys, returners. I feel like everyone’s new every year… I didn’t realize it last year, but even if it’s your second year, I feel like you’re kind of a new guy still,” Vallee said. “It’s just having the mentality that everybody is new here, and we have to come up as a team in the first few weeks.”

Vallee has no worries about the team coming together, though.

“I think the guys, everybody likes each other… it’s just, we’re coming to have fun together.”

Vallee sees another key factor playing into the connection among the team: age.

“Everybody’s old here…  I think that all the guys having pretty much the same age, all of us feeling old, just brings us together even more. We just feel old and we’re just here to have fun,” Vallee said.

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all of your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on Twitter @dailyegyptian

 

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