Kentucky’s Collett making most of his extra time on diamond

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

T.J. Collett was not sure he’d still be playing baseball a year ago and the University of Kentucky slugger is enjoying the opportunity.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, Collett and the rest of the Wildcats were getting ready to leave for a trip to Nashville, Tenn., to play Vanderbilt.

The series with Vandy was postponed. Then the players were sent home for two weeks. Then the season was called off and the rest of the spring semester was completed through online classes.

“For all I knew — for about a month — I’d never play baseball again,” says Collett. “I’m glad the NCAA gave me the chance to come back and finish my career on my terms.”

Offered an extra year of eligibility after completing his undergraduate Communication degree, Collett took it and pursued his Masters in Communication while also playing as a graduate student in 2021. He’s about four weeks from completing his work.

He began his college career as a Finance major, but changed.

“I went with Communication because I love people,” says Collett. “I can interact in a business environment and there’s wide variety of jobs.

“I’m not sure what I want yet.”

In 29 baseball games (all starts), the lefty-swinging first baseman is hitting .301(31-of-103) with nine home runs (including two in his first multi-homer game March 16 against Murray State), one triple, five doubles, 20 runs scored and 36 runs batted in to go with a .425 on-base percentage and .631 slugging average.

Kentucky is 20-9 heading into a Tuesday, April 13 non-conference home game against Bellarmine.

Collett (pronounced Caw-LET) has played in 147 games at UK (120) starts and is hitting .276 (135-of-490) with 35 homers, two triples, 22 doubles, 133 RBIs, 87 runs, a .373 on-base percentage and .543 slugging average.

He sits eighth on Kentucky’s all-time homer list behind John Wilson (50), Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and good friend A.J. Reed (40), Aaron McGlone (39), Collin Cowgill (37), Jeff Abbott (37), Randy Clark (37) and Jeff Shartzer (37). 

Most of the time Collett is in the No. 3 or No. 4 slot in the batting order. Recently, he’s been in the 2-hole.

“There’s not a huge difference,” says Collett. “I’ve noticed my at-bats come around a little bit quicker. I like it.

“But responsibilities don’t change. I do anything I can anything to get a run in — anyway we can score.”

Collett was recruited to Kentucky out of Terre Haute (Ind.) North Vigo High School as a catcher. He recovered fine from hip surgery his senior year but four more procedures had him switching to first base. 

He played summer ball for the Amsterdam (N.Y.) Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in 2017, recuperated from surgery in 2018 and was with the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League in 2019 and in the College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020.

At North Vigo, Collett played for IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up teams in 2014 and 2015 and was 2016 Indiana Mr. Baseball. As a Patriot he was coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter

“They were two of the most influential people in my baseball people,” says Collett of Turner and Spetter. “They poured into me as much as they could.”

In travel ball, Collett spent his 14U through 18U summers with the Indiana Bulls and counts former Bulls coach and director of player development and current Indiana University assistant Dan Held as another who made a big impact on his game.

Collett’s first year at Kentucky was also the first for Wildcats head coach Nick Mingione.

“He’s a man of faith,” says Collett of Mingione. “He really has everybody’s best intentions at heart.

“When I first met him he had this insane energy. The past five years that energy has stayed up.”

Collett has put his energies into his studies and his play as well as community service and his a nominee for the 2021 Senior CLASS Award.

“It means a ton to me,” says Collett. “It’s more than just playing the sport.

“Maybe some younger players can be inspired by that.”

UK’s Troy Squires was the Senior CLASS Award winner for baseball in 2018.

“He told me that’s one of the coolest awards he’s ever received,” says Collett, who has spent much of his community service time with the NEGU/Jessie Rees Foundation helping children fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up.”

Notre Dame’s Daniel Jung is also on the 2021 Senior CLASS nomination list.

Timothy John Collett, who turns 24 on June 26, is the son of John and Sallee Collett. His older brother is Doug Collett (29).

T.J. Collett (University of Kentucky Photo)

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