Penn second baseman Mike Vilardo will begin a new chapter in his unique and eventful journey as a student-athlete next spring at Purdue, marking a significant loss for the Red and Blue.
After two Second-Team All-Ivy selections in his first two years as Penn’s second baseman, Vilardo is set to graduate early and head to Purdue to take advantage of his final two years of baseball eligibility and pursue a masters degree in management.
Vilardo’s latest move, one he contemplated deeply, was years in the making.
Vilardo’s dynamic athletic skill set and uncompromising work ethic led him to both rare opportunities and difficult decisions beginning in high school.
While at Cary-Grove High School in Illinois, Vilardo was a standout in both baseball and hockey. He was originally recruited by Ohio State for his skills on the ice and played for both the Team USA U18 hockey program and a junior league squad before coming to Penn and switching his focus to baseball.
In order to gain eligibility to play ball in during his first year as a Quaker, Vilardo took two years worth of credits at junior college in one, which put him on track to graduate after his junior year at Penn.
The decision to pursue baseball and work overtime for his immediate eligibility was validated beyond any doubt by Vilardo’s play during his time donning the Red and Blue: Vilardo was the only Penn player to hit over .300 in both of the last two seasons, and he led the club in doubles during each campaign.
With serious MLB desires and a strong interest in business school, the scrappy second baseman started to investigate his options in the spring of 2014.
Pursuit of a dream
When graduating after the fall 2014 term appeared to be a real possibility after some research and a meeting with his advisor, Vilardo got in contact with several Big 10 schools.
“I visited Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue, and what stood out most to me at Purdue was the confidence they had in me as a player to come in right away, have a big impact and have a good chance at getting drafted,” Vilardo said.
“To get my masters in business paid for along with being closer to home and competing at a higher level of baseball, I just thought that on all accounts it would be best for my family and I to make this decision.”
The strong-minded Vilardo has embraced the challenges that his unique opportunity comes with.
From the pages of a book
The second baseman took three classes this summer in order to stay on track for his early graduation.
“It was a grind taking three Ivy level courses, but I was able to work at that with one of my best friends who used to play baseball [for Penn], Marshall Harden,” Vilardo said.
As if that wasn’t enough, the PPE major is also busy studying for the GMAT.
As Vilardo admitted, focusing more on books than his bat this summer isn’t ideal from a baseball perspective, but the Purdue coaching staff’s belief in the former Big 5 Rookie of the Year to come prepared at the start of the 2015 season has given him a crucial sense of confidence.
“[The coaches] have a lot of confidence in me that I’ll be able to prepare for the season mentally and physically,” he said.
Vilardo, who has been assured an infield role and a spot in the top half of the lineup in West Lafayette, will look to be a key contributor to a Purdue club with hopes of resurgence not unlike Penn’s this past spring.
“What Penn is doing with baseball is unbelievable and the swing that coach Yurkow pulled this year was great,” Vilardo said. “I’m hoping that at Purdue we’ll do similar things.”
Onward and upward
After a Big Ten Championship and the departure of a deep, talented senior class in 2012, the Boilermakers have played sub-.500 ball the past two years.
“I feel like having someone like me with experience coming in will help with some of the little things on the field and hopefully add a few more W’s,” Vilardo said.
Knowing several Purdue players through previous baseball experiences, including pitcher Patrick Kenney (who played with Vilardo on the Reds scout team and helped convince him to go to Purdue), should help Vilardo ease his way into a new situation.
Vilardo knows he’ll be counted on to help get Purdue back to the Big Ten Tournament, but he’s also serious about his individual development as a prospect.
“I definitely want to improve my plate discipline and take more walks, but most importantly I want to improve on my power,” Vilardo explained. “I think if I can be a middle infielder with more home run potential I can have a much better chance of moving on to the next level.”
In addition to the other advantages of going to Purdue, it certainly isn’t a bad place to chase MLB dreams: nine former Boilermakers have been selected in the MLB draft in the last three years.
Time to walk away
Regardless of the promise of Vilardo’s opportunity at Purdue, it was hard for the second baseman to walk away from Penn baseball.
“The team this year had a really special chemistry and that was what made it so hard to leave, especially considering how great the season went,” Vilardo said. “The memories I made on and off the field will be with me forever.”
While Vilardo has bounced around between many more schools and teams than the typical student athlete in the past five years, the soon-to-be Ivy League grad is unwavering in his pursuit of his dreams, and believes strongly in making the most of one’s opportunities while they are still available.
“The fact that I’ve seen myself go so many places, it makes me excited any time I get a new challenge and a chance to embrace new people, because life is too short not to take every opportunity you can.”