Iowa baseball’s Whelan takes on leadership role

When healthy, Chris Whelan has been a key producer for Iowa baseball. Now, he’s taking on a leadership role, too.


David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa baseball player Chris Whelan rounds second during a game against Penn State University on Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 8-4.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

A new season for Iowa baseball means new producers at the plate and new leaders.

With outfielder Robert Neustrom and catcher Tyler Cropley — Iowa’s top two performers in 2018 — gone to professional ball, the Hawkeyes will need someone to step up to replace all the hits, RBIs, and home runs the duo posted.

Enter Chris Whelan.

Whelan started the 2018 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but when he came back to the lineup, he was a force.

He ended up playing in and starting 38 of Iowa’s 53 games, in which he slashed .308/.403/.410. He also brought in 10 runs and hit 4 homers.

One of seven seniors on the roster, Whelan now has a platform for leadership after a long wait.

“It’s honestly kind of surreal; I never really thought I’d be in a position like this, especially at the college-baseball level,” Whelan said. “I still think I’m just some young 12-year-old out there who’s just playing backyard baseball.”

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Whelan, who lives with three sophomores, said he gets weird looks when he eats with freshman teammates at the dorms, but that’s the duty of a team captain.

Whelan was named a captain this season, along with pitchers Cole McDonald and Kyle Shimp and infielder Mitchell Boe.

Nick Rohlman
Iowa’s Chris Whelan recieves a throw at first during Iowa’s Big Ten tournament Game against Michigan at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. on Wed. May 23, 2018. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes 2-1 in extra innings.

He has established a fun personality in his time with the Hawkeyes, but that doesn’t stop him from fulfilling his job as a team captain.

“I’m not a crazy serious guy as being a captain,” Whelan said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to bark at you or anything like that. I kind of take a different approach to leadership, and I keep it fun, and I keep it light. I try to be everybody’s friend, but when it comes down to it, it’s taken more seriously when I get on you because I’m a fun-loving guy.”

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On the field, head coach Rick Heller said he is considering moving Whelan down in the batting order to get him more RBI opportunities.

Whelan led off for the Hawkeyes for a good chunk of the season last year, so it would be a pretty big change for the Naperville, Illinois, native.

But his success has been true, so it wouldn’t make sense for Whelan to psych himself out over a change in the lineup.

“For me, it’s just keeping the same approach I’ve had the last two years and the success I’ve had with that,” he said. “I’m not going to try to change too much with my approach up there, and I’m not going to do too much when RBI situations come into play.”

Heller said the new lineup’s consistency is promising, and Whelan said this year’s squad is probably the most special team he has been on in terms of chemistry.

From a chemistry standpoint, Whelan’s observation could bring plenty of positive things to Banks Field, but Iowa needs the production Heller noted to enjoy the achievements the team looks for.

“Some pretty big losses the last couple years on the offensive side, a lot of new faces, a lot of guys that are going to have to step up that are coming back,” Heller said. “I feel like with this team from the leadoff hitter to the 9-hole, we’ve got a really solid group. I don’t know that there’s a guy that’s going to hit 15 or 20 home runs in that group, but I think we have a much more consistent lineup.”

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