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2019 MLB Draft Prep: Cheer Local, St. Louis Billikens

Cubs reliever James Norwood pitched for the Billikens.

Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

As my Cheer Local portion of Draft Prep continues, the argument could be made either way regarding the St, Louis Billikens. St. Louis is close to the Illinois border. However, some Missouri fans cheer for a team other than the Cardinals. Without specifically seeking out the term, I've heard "Cubs fan in Cardinals territory" enough to consider it a valid occurrence. Here's a look at the Billikens In 2019, and why they’re a legit follow.

A few valid reasons to track the Billikens exist for a Cubs fan in 2019. The most basic streams from the knowledge that pro players often come from college programs. If you buy that as obvious, the true baseball fan ought to have a college squad to spend half an hour of a week covering. Half of this might be while sloshing down some coffee, soup, or yogurt at work during lunch.

The other best reason is that, as this is being written, the Cubs have a Billiken on their roster. James Norwood pitched for SLU, and debuted for the Cubs in 2018. While some baseball fans are about tossing aside players who don't immediately excel, my articles lean more toward the axiom of players developing at their pace, not ours. A reliever with upper-nineties velocity ought to receive more than one MLB chance.

Part of what saddens me about baseball is the throwaway nature of so many team supporters. “The new guy” is fine, until he has a bad outing or two. Like a music system with no mid-range sound, the appetite for new players is either really loud, or get rid of him. Lessons need to be learned at every level, and the lesson might not be learned from the first ringing double up the gap. Being supportive, of a team or player, ought to involves some willingness to permit occasional failure. The lack of that patience isn’t helpful for the long-term.

Norwood pitched for the Billikens between 2012 and 2014. His freshman and junior years were quite impressive, and his sophomore campaign was injury-limited. As a junior, he allowed 84 hits in 94 innings, and fanned 64. It was enough to get his name called in the seventh round by the Cubs in 2014. Many of Norwood’s minor-league team/season ERAs were worse than his 4.09 with the Cubs in 2018. It’s very possible he will be more refined on the mound in a few seasons.

As for the 2019 Billikens, they will need to replace their starting shortstop and Friday night pitcher. Both Alex King (15 homers in 2018) and Hunter Hogan (133 strikeouts) were drafted and signed by MLB organizations. Jake Garella (.352 average) returns for his junior campaign. The Saturday and Sunday starters both return as well, in Jackson Wark and Drew Reveno. That their team’s hitting (.281 average and .828 OPS with 58 homers in 58 games) and pitching (3.46 ERA) were solid hints at why they stormed through the Atlantic 10 last season. They were a solid and balanced team, that reached the Field of 64.

Recently, the Billikens 2019 schedule posted. They play four games (starting February 1) against Miami, Ohio in Hoover, Alabama. (The Red Hawks had three players drafted, as well.) If I were selecting St. Louis as my squad, I’d want to listen to the Friday or Saturday matchup the next weekend against Loyola Marymount (Cubs pitching prospect Cory Abbott attended that school). Those games start at 8 p.m. CT on February 22 and 23. I’m reasonably sure someone in one of those games will be drafted into pro ball eventually. And, by listening to both line-ups once around, you will have accomplished your “watching or listening” expectations before the Cubs get going.

If you’re in the St. Louis area, you get to choose from a bevy of home dates in March, with Western Illinois, Creighton, Chicago State, Illinois, Dayton, and St. John’s visiting in March. Students watch free, with a school ID. While the price for the public hasn’t been announced yet, I doubt they’re expensive.

If you buy into the premise of “half the MLB comes from colleges”, and happen to reside in the St. Louis area, get a Norwood shirsey, and represent Cubs fans at the Billikens Sport Center. Darin Hendrickson is the head coach, and they figure to have draft-worthy talent again in 2019. Wherever you’re located, there’s a team waiting for you to follow them. Perhaps through regionalism, a history of winning, or whatever ignites your interest. Through knowing one team, tracking their box scores, and reading the opinions of others, you can grasp the possibilities in the June draft. Be the one to tell us if Wark, Reveno, or Garella are the best options for June from SLU.