He found his swing in the Windy City.
Former Poly Prep baseball star Rob Calabrese burst onto the national scene at the University of Chicago this spring, bouncing back from two lackluster seasons at the start of his collegiate career. His .353 batting average, .425 on-base percentage and 53 runs batted in earned him Horizon League Player of the Year honors and a selection to the Collegiate Baseball All-America Second Team.
Those numbers were in stark contrast to Calabrese’s first two seasons in Chicago, during which he hit just .224 in 170 combined at bats.
The 21 year-old, one-time Blue Devils star credits his resurgence at the plate to a change in his approach to the game.
“I think I learned my first two years that baseball’s a really hard game,” Calabrese said. “And I got down on myself a lot and I kind of just took away a lot of at-bats because I was so down on myself for not doing what I was expecting myself to do. I think this year I kind of took a different approach about it, just trying to enjoy the game, enjoying what I’m doing and just having fun with it.”
That mentality paid off for both Calabrese and his teammates. The Flames won 39 games this season, clinching the Horizon League championship and earning a berth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament for the first time since 2008.
Chicago dropped both games in the Hattiesburg Regional, but Calabrese still managed to make an impact. He drove in five runs — including a grand slam against No. 10 Southern Miss — and was selected to the All-Regional Team.
“Even though we lost both games, I thought we were right there and we earned a lot of respect, being a small program in Chicago and being in the Horizon League,” he said. “I think a lot of teams know who we are now, playing those really tough games.”
Now that his season in Chicago is over, Calabrese will have a major decision to make in the coming weeks. He is projected by many to be selected in the early rounds of the upcoming Major League Baseball draft, and should that happen, he would have to decide whether to stay in school, or go pro.
“It’s always been my dream since I was a little kid, to play Major League Baseball,” he said. “But my goal has become to be the best catcher that I can be in the major leagues hopefully one day, and I think that I’m on the right path right now.”
Whether Calabrese returns to Chicago or chooses to pursue his professional goals, he said the impact that his time at Poly Prep had on him will stick with him for the remainder of his playing career.
He was full of praise for his Poly Prep coaches, including head coach Matt Roventini, and assistants Matt Durando, Anthony Ferrante and Joe Fusaro.
“They were great role models for me and they taught me a lot about the game,” Calabrese said. “So I think playing under them and just going to Poly and having their code — they call it their Honor Code — and being able to deal with that, you just learn a lot and you grow up a lot quicker.”
Calabrese often found himself in high-pressure situations with Poly Prep and he credits coming through in those big-time moments with preparing him for the college game. The Blue Devils won state championships in each of his first two seasons, and by his senior year Calabrese was named All-City Most Valuable Player. Now, he’s hoping that experience will prepared him for the pros.
“I think playing in so many of those high intensity games, it kind of teaches you basically to relax,” he said. “Playing in all those games you learn that all you really gotta do is just be yourself and do what you’ve been doing all year.”