Baseball senior Justin Toole’s head not turned by preseason accolades


Justin Toole doesn’t like to read anything into preseason accolades.

He’s honored, but the Iowa senior shortstop isn’t about to hang his sweat-stained ball cap on them just yet.

He was lauded as a preseason third-team All-American by Ping! Baseball after being named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Watch List. But Toole wants to define his season when it’s over. Not three days before it starts.

“I use that kind of stuff as motivation,” he said. “I know a lot of other guys on the team have done the same, where they’re kind of using it as motivation and trying to up their game. It’s kind of become a game where we’re kind of pushing ourselves, trying to make each other better.”

Not many players were better than Toole last year — especially at the plate.

After stringing together a school-record 25-game hitting streak at the conclusion of the 2008 campaign, the Council Bluffs native ended his junior season batting .395, the fifth-highest average in the Big Ten and the second-best average on the team.

He also finished fifth in the conference in hits, tallying 87 — four shy of tying the single-season record set at 91 in 1986 by John Knapp, a former 23rd-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“He’s kind of that big spark,” sophomore center fielder Kurtis Muller said. “He’s really one of the big leaders on our team who’s going to come through for us.

“Especially on the field, too. He’s always consistent. You know, if there is a ground ball to him, you know he’s going to make. If there is a tough play down the line, you know he’s going to go after it as hard as he can to make that play.”

Meanwhile, standing alongside juniors Tyson Blaser and Michael Jacobs as one of Iowa’s three cocaptains this year, Toole said leadership was on aspect of his game he strove to develop over the off-season.

Citing a significant lack of leadership last year when the Hawkeyes finished the regular season dead last in the Big Ten standings and missed the conference tournament, the outspoken middle infielder noted he and the seven other Iowa veterans have sought to set an example — one they hope will once again make the Hawkeyes contenders in the postseason.

That sprightly demeanor is something Iowa head coach Jack Dahm has gotten used to over the past three years with Toole.

“Mentally, he’s a very rock-solid player,” Dahm said at the team’s media day on Feb. 12. “He understands what it takes — one at bat at a time, one play at a time. So I think he is going to be able to handle it. He’s really enjoying being the captain of the team.”

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