A Baseball Life – Willis gains success from America’s pastime

July 28, 2017

Father knows best.

Those are three words that Kokomo Jackrabbits infielder/outfielder Imani Willis thinks about every day.

“I call him every night,” Willis said. “He doesn’t even need to be at the game or watching it online. He looks over the numbers and can tell me what I am doing right or wrong.

He’s watched me since I was a little kid playing baseball … he knows my routine at the plate and so on,” he added.

It was Monte Willis, a former college basketball athlete at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, that discovered a slow speed of Willis’ swing earlier this year. With the kind advice of a father going through his cell phone after a game, the Austin Peay University product came back the next night and swatted a triple for the Kokomo Jackrabbits in early June. Since that time, Willis’ rise has been nearly meteoric. He has produced 13 multiple-hit contests in the span, helping him jet to the top of the Prospect League batting average charts. Willis’ .365 mark, up almost 100 points since the slow beginning, has him one point ahead of West Virginia’s Justin Norman for the top spot.

With dad’s advice still fresh in his mind, he does not have plans on letting those numbers or his hot bat lag.

“I wasn’t getting my bat through the zone quick enough,” he admitted. “I was fouling off pitches and not getting good cuts at the ball because of it. Once I got my bat going faster, I was able to barrel up the ball and started hitting it back through the middle (which is where you want it to be).”

Beyond the numbers and accolades from his collegiate wood bat efforts or even when he is showing off his skills with the Governors during the academic year, baseball is the main story of Imani’s life but not the only one.

“I’ve been playing it since I was three,” he reminisced. “I fell in love with the sport right away, and it’s been with me ever since. My ultimate dream is play at the top level.

It’s like I tell anyone who asks me, baseball is one of the toughest but yet most rewarding sports (to play),” he added. “You are going to fail … it’s just a part of it. However, when you keep on working through those tough times, the good times are even better because of the dedication you have. You have to keep trying in this sport … never stop going forward.”

Willis also has an interest in potentially working in the sport media field someday and enjoys the simple art of drawing.

“I got the opportunity to get involved with Austin Peay’s sports network through my Communications major,” he said. “I really enjoy it … being behind the scenes at events.

As for drawing, it helps me relax a little,” he added. “When I’m overthinking too much (in regards to baseball), I think about something and just draw it. There isn’t one particular thing I like more than another … it’s whatever comes to mind.”

As for his love for America’s pastime, it has also allowed him to meet important people in his life. That list includes Jackrabbits’ first-year field manager Gary McClure.

“Without Coach Mac, I wouldn’t have gotten to Austin Peay or been able to have the experience (at Kokomo),” Willis said. “He lets me do what I need to do to be successful. I’m very thankful for that.”

Staying involved and working in the game he loves … just as his father has told him.

Return to News