Baseball: Beck taking new approach at Western Illinois University

Former Rochelle southpaw making mental, physical adjustments on the mound


Johnny Beck and his Western Illinois University teammates were on their way to a road game against Austin Peay State when they started hearing about collegiate athletics getting canceled to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Two days later, their 2020 season was over.

While Beck’s freshman season with the Leathernecks was cut short, the former Rochelle Township High School pitching standout was able to throw roughly 11 innings and appear in five games, totaling nine strikeouts. The 6-foot-8 left-hander said he’s added over 40 pounds to his frame since his arrival on campus, bulking up from 191 to 233 pounds.

“With this extended offseason, I’m going to do my best to take everything I’ve learned from college baseball and apply that to my training,” Beck said. “There are so many little things that I never thought about while pitching in high school that I can do in college. Physically, my main focus will be being quicker to the plate and healing the ankle I injured my senior year so that I can stay on my back side more easily. Mentally, I need to work on staying calm.”

Beck’s potential as an NCAA Division I prospect surfaced during his junior season with the Hubs, when he dominated opposing hitters with a 1.40 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 58 innings. While Beck posted strong numbers his senior season, he said that some setbacks with his mechanics made his initial adjustment to the collegiate level tough. However, Beck said he’s enjoying his experience with the Western Illinois baseball program so far, and he said the knowledge he’s absorbing from both his coaches and his teammates is helping him improve mentally.

“It’s been a blast,” Beck said. “I’ve learned a lot not only from the coaches, but also the older guys that have had the chance to gain a ton of experience… I came into Western Illinois with really bad mechanics that came out of nowhere. My junior year, my mechanics came naturally, so when they didn’t come naturally my senior year, I freaked out. In college, I’ve realized that pitching is not just about my body, but my mental game. It’s taken me a lot to figure out how to stay relaxed when things aren’t going smoothly and realizing that it happens to the best of us.”