John Rave and the Road Less Traveled

Jun 4, 2019 1:41 PM
Dan Napper

Photo courtesy of Illinois State University Athletics

If you spend any time around amateur baseball you will notice a pattern begin to develop around players who have goals of one day playing in the major leagues.  You must play as much baseball as possible and travel with only the elite squads around the country.  That is the only way you can eventually play college baseball at the highest level and one day play on the grandest of stages.

John Rave is out to prove each and every of you wrong.

“I did not travel the world, rather I played a lot of Midwest summer ball and got some recognition from some schools, but none of the big schools.”

So what, you say?

Well, Rave is predicted as a second day draft pick in the 2019 MLB draft and according to all the experts at the amateur level, he should not even be playing college baseball.  He never followed the right path.

He grew up in Bloomington, Illinois, about two hours south of Chicago and played his high school ball at Central Catholic.  His father was a basketball player at Illinois Wesleyan and his brother played baseball at Carthage College.  Despite the college athletes in the family the recruiting process for foreign to John and the family.

“There is a place you are meant to be and they will find you,” said Rave.

He sounds like a fifty year old stuck in the body of someone who is not even twenty years old yet.  But, it is that maturity that has guided Rave throughout the entire process and has him knocking on the doorstep of the biggest moment of his baseball career.  And that mentality is what lead him to Illinois State University just down the road from where he played his high school baseball.

“ISU said I could play early and make and impact. I wanted to do just that and get as much experience as possible.”  As a freshman he started fifty three games, all in center field, was a Missouri Valley Conference Honorable Mention and all-defensive team, he was one of three freshman to earn all-conference honors, and was the only freshman on the all-defensive team.  Collegiate baseball named him to the Freshman All-America team while he ranked second on the Redbirds in hits with fifty-five, lead ISU in stolen bases with twelve and triples with four, drew thirty walks, scored thirty one runs and posted a .985 fielding percentage.  Impact?  Check.

Finding that place you are meant to be seems to have something to it.  “It worked out perfectly, I won the starting centerfield position and I got to start every game as a freshman.”

He may be on to something because in his sophomore season all he did was lead ISU in runs, doubles, triples, home-runs, rbi, slugging percentage, and total bases.  He was once again named to the all-defensive team and 2nd team All-MVC.  Impact?  Check and mate.

If you talk to multiple high school coaches many will tell you they want multi-sport athletes.  That the off-season within another sport helps build different strength and athleticism.  But, over the last 20-25 years there has been a shift to playing and focusing on only one.  When you speak to John Rave though he was never going to let someone stop him from playing a sport he loved: basketball.

“Let kids be kids, the game should still be fun.  There is no reason to make it more than what it is.  Growing up you need to keep the love of baseball and I saw so many guys falling out from people pushing them to play too much at a young age.  I was lucky that I always had basketball and I wasn’t going to give that up.  Kids should play sports for as long as they possibly can and they should play as many as they can.  Sports are meant to be fun.”

Again, somehow you get the weathered, wise voice of a fifty year old man who has seen his share of the world.  But, again, John Rave was never going to walk the expected path of so many before him.  This is his journey and he is letting his play, work, and love of the game lead him to wherever that may take him.

When asked about where he would love to be drafted you can hear the smile on his face.  “Honestly no, I met a lot of scouts during the fall, whatever organization wants to pick me that is where I am supposed to be and if they have the faith in me then it is just a cool situation I am fortunate to be in.”

Where have you heard something like this before?  Where you are meant to be is where you will end up?  Something like that?  Sounds rather wise, must be an elder with years of experience guiding the youth of today.

When asked about one specific moment in his prep career Rave thinks back to a tournament in Jupiter, Florida.  He was able to travel with the Jupiter Fall Team and play with fellow high school names as Gavin Lux (Dodgers), Jack Suwinski (Padres), and Ben Rortvedt (Twins).  In the process he got to play against some of the best competition in the country.

“Those guys kept everything in perspective to me as they were getting ready for pro ball while I was getting ready for college.  It showed me a lot about the maturity you can have approaching such a big moment, about how much fun you can having playing ball and not taking any day too seriously.”

There is where you get to the heart of John Rave.  His childlike passion for the game is almost ironically contradictory to his mentality towards playing.  But, when you speak to him you understand why he plays the game as though he is still twelve years old, but approaches it at the same the same time with the maturity of someone well beyond his twenty one years.  When asked what advice he would give to young ballplayers with dreams as big as his own he pause for a moment and then you hear the wisdom of someone far more seasoned begin to emerge.

“Don’t stress about making every showcase and summerball circuit. You need to have balance of life and make time for friends and family.  Have that balance and soak it all in instead of trying to make every showcase in the country.”  Balance: a word every young ballplayer needs to hear and understand.  Understand the fact that every showcase is not the end all be all of their baseball career and continue to remember why they began playing the game in the first place.  The love and excitement of getting to play a game.

“You should find coaches and people who will push you, but understand that balance.  I was lucky enough to have great coaches who were understanding and knew that summerball and basketball were just as important to me.”

It is that wisdom that has guided Rave to this point now, waiting for the call to let him know where he will be headed next.  He does not know what direction that road will be in, or where it will turn, or turn again, or how rocky or smooth that path may be, but if you get to John Rave he would not have it any other way.  Asked about how it will feel when the moment comes and it is the first time he is at a slight loss for words.  “I don’t know, I’ll have to wait and see what it will be like, a lot of excitement I’m sure, and emotion.  Tears of joy in finding out who I get to represent.”

And that is how you walk your own path to the big leagues.   You continue forward despite any adversity that is placed in front of you.  You bottle up the childlike enthusiasm so many have had at the youngest of years, when just being on the fields was the most exciting moment of the day, and you combine it with the maturity and wisdom of a seasoned MLB veteran.  That is why when the darken woods of the road not yet taken are standing in front of John Rave he will gladly walk right through them to his goal.  He does not want to follow the path that so many have already walked before him.  He would simply tell you it is more fun to make your own.


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