Feb. 10, 2005
by Veronica White
'I guess in a way, baseball's America's pastime because you can fail more times than you succeed, but still be considered successful,' says Husky junior Brent Lillibridge. 'That gives you hope.'
Lillibridge should know -- the Everett, Wash., native has been playing the game since he was five years old, and hopes to make a career out of it following the 2005 season. A talented prep shortstop, Lillibridge signed with Washington three years ago with the expectation of replacing then-UW junior Tila Reynolds, who was expected to turn pro. When Reynolds returned for his senior season, the Husky coaches -- determined to get the talented Lillibridge on the field -- asked the freshman if he would consider a move to center field.
'I was disappointed at first,' he says, 'but I like challenges. That gave me the chance to prove myself on the baseball field, and that translated to how I live my own life outside of sports.'
Prove himself is exactly what Lillibridge has done.
The Husky junior started 48 games in centerfield as a freshman, batting .388 with a UW freshman-record 13 home runs, 47 runs batted in, and a slugging percentage of .699 that led all collegiate frosh. Named the starter in centerfield for the USA Baseball National Team in 2003, Lillibridge earned Freshman All-America honors and was a first-team selection to the All-Pac-10 team. The Husky repeated the All-Pac-10 honors in 2004 with a .317 average and 11 home runs, while posting single-season totals in at-bats (249), hits (79), runs (65), and walks (41) that each ranked among UW's all-time top-10.
Lillibridge enters his junior year ranked sixth on the UW's career batting average list with a .347 mark, while his 24 career home runs ties him for the 10th-most in UW history. Most significantly for Lillibridge, however, is a full-time move back to shortstop, a position he has always considered to be his best fit.
'I've always loved shortstop,' he says. 'It's in the middle of the game. In the infield I can be vocal and motivational and my teammates can see how I react to things. I am really excited to be the number-one shortstop.'
Lillibridge is not the only one excited about this season. The UW men enter play in 2005 with a No. 8 preseason ranking, the highest in the program's 105-year history. After finishing second in the Pac-10 last year and losing in the regional championships, the veteran Dawgs believe this could be the year they break through to the College World Series.
'We have huge expectations for this year,' says Lillibridge. 'This is definitely the year that we can prove to ourselves that we can be number one.'
Lillibridge's high expectations extend to his own play. With another strong year in 2005, Lillibridge plans on entering the Major League Baseball draft, and trying his hand at professional ball. Although Lillibridge says that he loves being a Husky and would not be disappointed if had to come back for his senior year, he has his sights set on the major leagues.
'Baseball has been my job since I was five years old,' he says. 'It's what I have always wanted to do when I grow up. Now, that is finally starting to become a reality.'
Lillibridge, however, will not let his professional aspirations in any way limit his focus on helping the Huskies achieve their goals in 2005. Named a team captain, he hopes to continue providing an example to his teammates as to the benefits of hard work and a positive attitude.
'I am big on attitude,' he says. 'Success never comes easy for anyone, especially in baseball. It's a failure game. It's frustrating, and that's why you have to respect it so much.'
One of the younger Huskies Lillibridge will be seeking to influence this season is his brother, Kiel, a freshman infielder. The Lillibridge brothers won't be the first sibling duo to take the field at Husky Ballpark.
'The Huskies believe that the gene pool is the right way to go,' Lillibridge says. 'With brothers, it's always a special situation.'
'Special' is certainly an apt word to describe Lillibridge's play over the past two seasons. Infield or outfield, it doesn't really matter: there's only one place Lillibridge cares about playing this season -- Omaha, Nebraska, site of the College World Series.
A game of failure it may be, but if Lillibridge is right about the 2005 Huskies, Washington fans should prepare for nothing but success.