College : : Story
Friday, April 16, 2010

Argo Enjoying Banner Year for Illinois

Jim Ecker        
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Willie Argo got hit in the head by a pitch against the Iowa Hawkeyes last Sunday and had a small problem. His batting helmet was damaged and had to be replaced before he could run the bases. Argo, of course, was perfectly fine.

Yes, Willie Argo is a tough customer.

Argo was a four-sport star at Davenport Assumption High School in Iowa, excelling in football, wrestling, track and baseball. Now he’s “only” a baseball player at the University of Illinois, and a good one. Baseball America named him the best athlete among all ballplayers in the Big Ten, an honor he probably could have lived without.
“My teammates saw that and made fun of me a little bit,” he said.

Nobody else makes fun of him. If they do, it’s their mistake.

Argo, 20, scored 83 touchdowns in high school, an Iowa Class 4A record. He placed third at the state wrestling meet, and anchored sprint relay teams that finished second and third at state track meets. He hit .481 for Assumption one year, then hit .508 the next. Gong back a little further, he socked a home run in the 2001 Little League World Series.

So yes, Willie Argo is an excellent athlete. In high school, it was practically non-stop. Football practice would begin in August, and the baseball season would end in July. In between would come wrestling and track, so there wasn’t much time to rest.

“It takes a toll on you,” he said. “I had to miss a little bit of wrestling one time, and in football one time I didn’t practice for like six weeks. And I missed a little bit of the baseball season my sophomore year. It takes a toll on you, but I wouldn’t want to be not playing a sport and sit around and do nothing.”

Argo, 6-1, 205, is now a one-sport athlete at Illinois. And a good one.

“It’s nice,” he said last Sunday after the weekend series against Iowa. “I kind of miss some of the other sports, but I can watch those and play flag football at school. It’s nice to be able to work on my baseball game every day, because I think I’m pretty raw as a player and I have a lot of room to grow.”

Raw? Argo had a stretch this season where he hit 30-for-63 for a .476 average with 12 RBIs, 18 runs, four doubles, a triple, a home run and went 15-for-16 in stolen bases. Everybody should be so raw.

“I don’t know if I really went 30-for-63, but I’ll take your word for it,” he said. “I’ve just been using my speed, putting the ball on the ground. When I’m the leadoff hitter, I swing at the first pitch a lot; pitchers are trying to get ahead in the count. I haven’t exactly been killing the ball, but the ball has been falling a lot.”

Argo, who patrols center field for Illinois, struggled a little against the Iowa Hawkeyes last weekend, dropping his average to .389 for the season. “I was maybe a little too geared up to come home and play Iowa and maybe over-swinging a little bit,” he said.

Nonetheless, he’s enjoying a strong campaign. He raised his average to .396 this past week , which is seventh-best in the Big Ten. He leads the league in stolen bases (26 of 28) and is tied for the Big Ten lead in on-base percentage at an even .500 clip for the Illinois (15-13, 3-3).

Argo enjoyed playing a variety of sports in high school, but he always liked baseball the best and thought it was the logical sport for him to pursue in college.

“On the football field, there were plenty of guys who could do what I did,” he claimed. “In baseball, my skills – or tools – are probably a little more rare, so I thought that was probably a little more valuable on the baseball field than on a football field or anywhere else.

“Yeah, I like baseball the most. It’s different in college. It’s a lot more work, but I still enjoy it the most. I see the football guys – that’s all they do the whole year, and they hate it, so I think I picked the right sport.”

Argo was selected in the 49th round of the 2008 major league draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but did not come close to signing. “No,” he said, smiling, “they didn’t even make me an offer.”

He’ll be eligible for the draft again in 2011 and thinks his career is developing fairly well.

“I’m pretty happy with it so far,” he said. “When I came here in the fall (as a freshman in 2008), I couldn’t hit a breaking ball. I didn’t have an arm at all, and my eye has gotten a lot better at the plate. I just use the whole field better and have become a lot better baseball player.”

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