The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Andy Nelson enjoying breakout campaign with Iowa baseball

The fourth year has battled injuries throughout his Hawkeye career but has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous hitters this season.
Ethan McLaughlin/The Daily Iowan
Iowa utility player, Andy Nelson slides into home base to beat the throw during a baseball game between Iowa and Western Illinois at Duane Banks Field on Friday, March 15, 2024. The Hawkeyes would win 11-1 in the eighth inning.

When head coach Rick Heller took over the Iowa baseball program in 2014, he inherited a squad with struggling talent that finished eighth in the Big Ten. Fan interest was low, and there were even rumors that the athletic department would cut the baseball program altogether.

Flash-forward a decade later, and Heller has orchestrated an incredible turnaround that has resulted in three NCAA Tournament appearances and the 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship. Renovations to Duane Banks Field have been approved, and the ballpark is regularly packed during Big Ten play.

Heller’s teams are well-known for featuring a breakout star each year, and this year is no different.

Enter fourth-year Andy Nelson.

High school stardom

Hailing from Winfield, Illinois, Nelson starred at Wheaton North High School, earning the 2019 DuKane Conference Player of the Year after hitting .451 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs as a shortstop. He was also named an All-State and All-Conference selection by Prep Baseball Report.

Nelson’s final high school season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he had already signed with the Hawkeyes. He was regarded by Perfect Game as the No. 12 prospect in Illinois and the fourth-best shortstop in the state.

Joining Nelson in the 2021 recruiting class were future Iowa stars Keaton Anthony, Ty Langenberg, and fellow shortstop MichaelSeegers.

Early Iowa career

Nelson played in only 13 games during the conference-only 2021 season and recorded only one hit in 11 at-bats. Despite this, he was named the No. 20 “Impact Freshman” in the Big Ten by D1Baseball.

With his first year under his belt, Nelson turned it around in 2022 and raised his average to .255 with one homer and four RBI’s. He started 14 games during the season, 13 of which came at third base, and the one home run was especially significant as it came during a 6-3 upset victory over No. 12 Texas Tech.

Iowa finished the season 36-19 and 17-7 in the Big Ten but narrowly missed the postseason after a tough exit in the Big Ten Tournament. Despite the disappointing ending, Nelson and the Hawkeyes were poised for a run at the NCAA Tournament in 2023.

Luck would have otherwise.

Injury bug 

Injuries began to take their toll on Nelson during his second collegiate season. He re-aggravated a hamstring injury midway through the year against Illinois and made only one appearance the rest of the season as a pinch-hitter against Purdue.

Nelson hoped to return for the 2023 season but underwent Tommy John surgery in the offseason and missed the season as a result. As he watched from the bench, the Hawkeyes rolled to a 44-16 season and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons.

Nelson briefly entered his name in the transfer portal following the season — but quickly realized Iowa was home.

“The coaching staff has given me the opportunity to come back here and show that hard work can pay off,” Nelson said.

His hard work back on the road to recovery would do just that.

Breakout campaign

Despite all of the adversity he has faced in his Hawkeye career, Nelson has established himself as one of the most dangerous bats in the Iowa lineup with five homers and 29 RBIs on the year. His five long balls rank second on the team behind redshirt fourth-year Kyle Huckstorf.

While each pitcher presents a unique challenge, Nelson’s approach is to “remain constant and be confident.” That strategy has worked well as he owns a batting average of .357 along with a .561 slugging percentage.

Though Nelson entered college as a shortstop, he is primarily used as a utility man in the Hawkeye defense — a role he has embraced. Nelson currently has a fielding percentage of .991, adding more firepower to one of the nation’s best defenses.

“I love being able to play any position because it gives me more of an ability to help the team,” Nelson said.

The same hamstring issue has forced Nelson to miss some time this year, but Heller has enjoyed watching his young star thrive in his role.

“He’s been doing a great job this year,” Heller said. “I always worry about him re-pulling the hammy, but it’s nice to have him in the leadoff spot.”

Despite a slow start, Nelson and the Hawkeyes have won five of their last eight games, and optimism is beginning to surround the program as the season hits its final stretch.

“For me, it’s just coming out every day and controlling things that are controllable and stay locked in on all those aspects,” Nelson said.

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About the Contributor
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.