If you haven’t seen a pure hitter of the baseball up close and personal, the clock is ticking. Illinois State University outfielder Ryan Cermak has been on a tear with the bat all season long, but the regular season comes to an end with a three-game series against Southern Illinois beginning May 19 at Duffy Bass Field.
Cermak’s approach to hitting a baseball is pretty simple.
“I don’t care what they throw,” Cermak said. “I’m going to try and attack the ball if it’s around the plate and hit it as hard as I can.”
It’s tough to argue with the results. In 47 games Cermak has homered 18 times, making him the first Redbird player to eclipse the 15-home run mark in a season since 1999. The team’s single-season record for home runs was set that year by Ryan Duncheon with 23.
Cermak, a third-year sophomore, has been in a groove at the plate and in center field all spring. He hasn’t made an error on defense, and he’s been swinging the bat well from the start. D1Baseball recently named him the No. 6 ranked outfielder in the nation. After one particular hot streak in mid-April, he was named National Player of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and D1Baseball.
That week, Cermak had 11 hits in 21 at-bats; slugged five home runs, including four in a row and two grand slams; and broke a 37-year-old school record with 14 RBIs. And on defense he climbed the center-field wall to steal an extra-base opportunity. When his big week was finished, he began the next one by leading off at the University of Illinois with a home run that left the park in about a second.
“That five or six games was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” head baseball coach Steve Holm said. “He was extremely locked in at that point and has pretty much been locked in all year. It didn’t matter what pitch they threw, they couldn’t get him out, and couldn’t get him out front. He squared everything up and got it up in the air.”
Cermak, who has led off or hit third in the order this season, has enjoyed his success so far. But he’s put in the effort to get to this point, and he knows there’s the potential for more baseball coming if the team has some late success.
“It all comes down to the work you put in,” he said referring to the extra time he devotes to hitting on off days and in the evenings. “I go to the cages with Nick Gile (infielder) and hit off the machine.”
The machine throws fastballs and curveballs, and Cermak uses it all season, even after a day filled with a weight room session and a full practice. He gets in 150 extra cuts.
Cermak’s favorite moment of the year, despite all his offensive numbers, happened in the outfield during a game at Missouri State on May 15 when he saved a homer over the wall in left-center field.
“I climbed up, put my right leg on the wall, stuck my glove up, and brought it back,” Cermak said. “You don’t get to do that very often.”
The Redbirds are currently below .500 (19-28 overall, 6-12 Missouri Valley Conference), but the season has had big moments with wins over a pair of nationally ranked teams in then-No.2 Arkansas and then-No. 19 Purdue.
“We knocked off some marquee programs early on, then scuffled a bit and had some injuries, but we got some players back now,” Cermak said. “We’ll see if we can’t put together a little run.”
With a 3.73 GPA in parks and recreation management, Cermak has been named Academic All-District. First-baseman Jake McCaw, a Bloomington-Normal native, who has hit 12 homers, also earned Academic All-District honors. McCaw ’21 graduated with a 3.92 GPA in business information systems and currently has a 4.0 as an MBA student.
Looking ahead, Cermak turns 21 in June, and he’s got his sights set on big things this summer.
“I’m hoping that a team will take a chance on me, and July 17-19 (Major League Baseball’s draft dates), I’ll hear my name called and being playing professional baseball next year,” he said.
At the moment, Cermak is focused on playing his best for his Redbird teammates.
“Right now, I’m trying to have fun and win games,” he said.
The Redbirds have three games at home against Southern Illinois, May 19–21, ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, which will be held May 24–28 in Springfield, Missouri.