Walliser's focused

  • Mundelein first baseman Jack Walliser fields a groundball during the Mustangs' win over host Libertyville on Tuesday.

      Mundelein first baseman Jack Walliser fields a groundball during the Mustangs' win over host Libertyville on Tuesday. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Published4/18/2008 12:22 AM

Sitting in a ball holder on a shelf in his bedroom is Jack Walliser's prized autographed baseball.

It's picture perfect -- much like the prize-winning photo he took recently.

 

The Mundelein senior used the timer on the digital camera he got for Christmas and staged an artistic shot himself playing pool.

Through school, he entered a photography contest for local high school students that was sponsored by the Great Frame Up in Vernon Hills. The store put his photo and those of 24 other finalists on display. On Tuesday, his photo won the "People's Choice Award," which means it was the most popular with the store's customers.

"That was cool," Walliser said of the award. "I really like taking pictures, especially of relaxing things, like the lake by our house. But photography is just a hobby for me."

Baseball ranks quite a bit further up on the extracurricular totem pole.

For Walliser, who starts at first base for the red-hot 11-1 Mustangs, baseball is a passion. Has been since he became known as Mundelein's biggest superfan.

That was back when he was about 10 or 11 years old.

In 2000 and 2001, Jack's older brother James was a standout player on a couple of Mundelein teams that won more than 30 games per season and made significant runs in the state tournament.

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Jack couldn't get enough of the Mustangs. He attended just about every game, wore red Mundelein gear and went chasing after home runs and foul balls like his pants were on fire.

He became so beloved by the players that they eventually presented him with a T-shirt that read 'Bat Boy' on the back.

"Jack was all about Mundelein baseball," said big brother James, an Air Force Academy graduate who is now 25 and a flight test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base in California. "It got to the point that if Jack wasn't at a game, all the other players would be like, 'Where's Jack?' It was great having him at the games like that."

One day, Walliser sprinted out past the outfield fences to retrieve a home run that was hit by his favorite player -- who wasn't his brother.

A fan of the long ball, Walliser was enamored by Nick Czerkies, who was Mundelein's leading home run hitter during those years. Walliser brought the ball over to Czerkies and Czerkies signed it for him.

"I had so much fun watching those games and shagging those home run balls," Walliser said. "I remember I was so excited when Nick signed that ball. He signed it, 'Nick Czerkies, NSC (North Suburban Conference) Champs, 2000.' "

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's the ball that sits on the shelf in Walliser's room today.

Walliser spent many days staring at that ball, picturing what it would be like when he would finally get to wear a real Mundelein uniform, play on the same field that his idols did and have little kids chasing after his home run balls.

Now, he finally knows. Finally.

It took even longer than Walliser could have ever imagined for him to get a shot to live out his boyhood dreams.

Walliser played a full season of baseball as a freshman -- albeit not on the varsity field, his Field of Dreams -- and hasn't played another until this year.

For most of his high school career, Walliser has been hamstrung by injuries.

"I even missed some time because I had to have my wisdom teeth taken out," Walliser said with a laugh. "I've been injured so much."

As a sophomore, Walliser missed half the season with a labral tear in his left shoulder that eventually required surgery. He couldn't play baseball that summer either.

Then, as a junior, he developed serious stress fractures in his foot -- so serious, in fact, that he missed about 75 percent of last season and was forced to spend much of the school year on crutches.

Now, Walliser's right shoulder is acting up. But there is absolutely no way he's going to let his senior year slip away, and let dreams go unfulfilled.

"Every time I throw, it hurts," Walliser said. "It feels like my shoulder comes out of the socket a little bit. There are days where I can throw the ball and it will have zip on it and others where it just won't travel.

"But it's my senior year and I really don't want to miss it."

No one is surprised by Walliser's determination. Not those who knew him years ago, anyway.

"Jack has been the walking wounded," Mundelein coach Todd Parola said. "But he's battled back trying to realize those dreams he had as a kid. He idolized those kids when he was younger and you can just tell how important it is for him to get his time. He'd do anything to play."

Despite being in near constant pain, Walliser, an A student who will major in architectural engineering next year at the University of Kansas, is putting up decent numbers. His batting average is well over .300 with 3 doubles and only 1 strikeout. And he's already rolled up more than 10 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

"I can remember one time when my brother was playing center field at Mundelein and someone hit a ball deep over his head," Walliser said. "This was back when the fence in the outfield wasn't permanent and he ended up hitting the fence and half of it fell over. He was trying so hard.

"I don't know, I always try."

It's one of many lessons Walliser took from his childhood passion: the Mundelein Mustangs.

"I know with all the injuries, it's been discouraging (for Jack)," James Walliser said. "But he's been dedicated to Mundelein baseball for so long. I think that's gotten him through it."

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