In a baseball career that has already taken him far and wide, Chase Illig is about to begin the ultimate journey in the sport.
The West Virginia University catcher was selected by the New York Yankees in the 29th round – with the 885th overall pick – on Wednesday during the final day of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Illig will travel to Tampa, Florida, today to undergo a physical at New York’s spring training facility and then he’ll begin his pro career as he foregoes his final season of eligibility at WVU.
What path did he take to get here?
Born in Bluefield, West Virginia, Illig played three seasons at Tazewell High School in Southwest Virginia and finished out his prep days at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
He began his college career at the College of Charleston, but transferred to West Virginia.
He’s had summer-league stints with the Bellingham (Washington) Bells of the West Coast League and Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League.
Illig has put in the time and racked up the mileage to reach this point.
“Oh my gosh, it’s been 20 years of hard work and goes back to when I was a little kid throwing the ball in my backyard and all the way to going away from home and trying to figure things out on my own,” Illig said. “I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”
Illig hit .223 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in his two seasons at WVU and excelled behind the plate with a .997 fielding percentage.
He did not play for the Mountaineers in 2019 after suffering a Jones fracture in his left foot two weeks before the season began.
“When the doctor told me in January that it was a Jones fracture and I needed a screw in there and it’s about a three or four month recovery, I was bummed,” Illig said. “I had been kind of set to be drafted fairly high from some people that had talked to me, so hearing that news was tough. I talked to my family and talked to my support group and they just told me to worry about the things I could control, work hard every day and if it’s meant to happen, it will happen. I’m thankful the New York Yankees took a chance.”
Illig is now healthy and will be on the field this summer.
He’ll likely begin his career with the Gulf Coast League Yankees, the Appalachian League’s Pulaski Yankees or the New York-Penn League’s Staten Island Yankees.
An Appy League assignment would be enticing for Illig as Pulaski is in the New River Valley and the team’s opponents include the Bluefield Blue Jays, Princeton Rays and Bristol Pirates.
“That definitely would be really cool,” Illig said. “Anywhere I go I’m going to be just as happy to be able to play baseball again.”
Putting in the work won’t be a problem for Illig.
“Chase has a great work ethic and will do great things,” said Aaron Buchanan, who coached Illig at Tazewell. “I am glad that his dream has come true of playing professional baseball. “
Illig was in Morgantown, West Virginia, and was on the phone with his father, Glenn, when he got the news.
“[On Tuesday] the Yankees [officials] said to have my phone nearby that they might take me and [Wednesday] they did the same thing,” Illig said. “The rounds were going by and every time the Yankees pick came up I was really locked in to see who they’d take. I had some friends there watching with me and finally saw my name in the 29th round.”
Was Illig a Yankees fan growing up?
“It’s kind of funny, but a lot of my friends are Boston Red Sox fans and I kind of gravitated toward that,” Illig said. “But there was no certain team I followed hard. One of my friends that likes the Red Sox, when he saw that the Yankees had drafted me, he told me that he’d never wear a Yankees hat, but that he’d always root for me.”
It was certainly an eventful day for Illig.
“Oh, man,” Illig said. “It’s pretty unbelievable.”
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