By Blake Baxter
EUREKA – Jake Carter entered his senior season with a little different approach this spring.
Normally something of a perfectionist, Carter decided that he needed to reconsider how he thought about the game after a junior campaign that left him feeling burnt out by the grind.
Last summer, the Red Devils' starting second baseman took a little more time off from training than he typically did. He still loved the game, but he needed to recharge.
"I kind of changed how I train in the offseason," Carter said. "Instead of hitting every day, I just kind of took a step back and just tried to enjoy it a little bit more."
Carter, who hails from Carlinville, Illinois, also altered his mindset at the plate.
"The first couple years, I wasn't really worried about driving the ball," he said. "I was more of an on-base kind of guy, because we had Ray Vogel, Sean (Green) and Grant Mullin. So this year, I had to step up and try to drive the ball a little better."
When the season came to an abrupt halt in mid-March due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, it was obvious that Carter had been seeing the ball well.
Swinging with newfound confidence and aggression, Carter batted a career-best .300 in 14 games this season. He notched 15 hits – only six fewer than in all of 2019 – posted four doubles, drove in 10 runs, walked five times and swiped three bases. His .380 slugging percentage was a career high, as well.
Carter turned in three multi-hit performances and had at least one hit in all but two games. In addition to his changed mentality, he also credits his teammates in the Red Devils' pitching staff for helping him prepare for the season.
"I had to face our pitchers, and they were probably the best ones we've had so far," Carter said of preseason.
Carter spent four seasons in maroon and gold, but he actually didn't start off his college career at Eureka. He originally had a scholarship to play NAIA baseball at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri.
During his first semester, however, he found that being on a roster of over 100 players wasn't for him.
"I thought that was a big cool thing," Carter said of the NAIA scholarship. "But once I came to Eureka, I learned that it wasn't all about scholarships; it's where you fit in the most."
At Eureka, Carter enjoyed class sizes that were closer to what he was used to in high school, going from 50-60 students in a class to about 20. He was able to get to know his professors on a more personal level, and gradually forged strong bonds with his new teammates.
The highlight of his career came during his sophomore year when the Red Devils knocked off nationally-ranked conference foe Webster at home in a 2-1 pitchers' duel in the last contest of a three-game series.
All told, it was a strong and memorable series for Carter, who went 3-for-5 in Game 2 and delivered the first home run of his collegiate career in Game 1.
"I was having a decent year, but I was still new to the team," Carter said. "That was the first full year I was there, and that home run helped me settle in a little bit and just trust myself that I could do it."
Carter is graduating from EC with a degree in business, and he plans to continue his education at a graduate school where he can get an MBA and coach baseball as a graduate assistant.
Competition and coaching runs in Carter's family tree.
His father, Todd Carter, played football at Eastern Illinois. His cousin, Michael Cameron, recently played basketball at MacMurray, and his uncle, Cliff Cameron, is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame who coached Pleasant Plains High School for 18 years and led the Cardinals to a pair of Class A state titles in 2000 and 2002.
Carter already coaches a high school travel team called the Illinois Central Blue Jays in the summer, and he aspires to coach at a higher level soon.
"Even from when I was little, I always wanted to be the coach," he said. "That's the main reason why I played in college. You need to play in college to be able to coach in college, and that's what I want to do."