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130313 University of Pennsylvania - Baseball vs Villanova Credit: Hunter Martin , Courtesy of Penn Athletic Communications

If you look up driven in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Mike Vilardo.

Penn baseball’s rookie sensation from Cary, Ill. has stormed onto the scene this season, establishing himself as one of the Quakers’ best hitters with a slugging percentage of .537 and a batting average of .341, not to mention the fact that he’s leading the Ivy League with 26 RBIs and ranks second in all of Division I with 16 doubles.

In the first month of the season, he was named Ivy Rookie of the Week twice, Big 5 Player of the Week,and Ivy League Player of the Week.

“It’s been a real honor,” Vilardo said. “I didn’t expect myself to get as many great opportunities as I have. The coaches and my teammates have really helped me out … I hope this is just the beginning of my Penn career.”

A strong commitment to baseball would hardly be enough to put these numbers on the board for any player, but there’s much more to this freshman than just impressive statistics and a killer swing.

In addition to baseball, Vilardo also grew up playing hockey very seriously.

In fact, he was recruited to Ohio State during his sophomore year of high school on a hockey scholarship and left home during his junior year to pursue a professional hockey career with the Team USA U18 program in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Moving away from home at age 16 was really tough on me, especially with how close I was with my family,” Vilardo said.

But it was a decision that his family heavily supported.

“It was a dream that he had, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play for your country and it was just something that you couldn’t pass on,” Vilardo’s father Tom said.

Yet, when an injury prompted his return to Illinois, he went back to baseball.

Vilardo ended up drawing attention from some major Division I schools and committed to Richmond for baseball in his senior year of high school.

“A lot of people thought it was a shocking decision and kind of an immature decision because I was definitely more of a highly-touted prospect in hockey,” Vilardo said. “But at the end of the day, it comes down to what you love to do and I enjoy baseball a lot more.”

After a rough journey through Richmond’s rocky coaching staff changes, Vilardo landed at Penn, where he’s added a strong element to the Quakers’ lineup.

“He brings a good bat to the middle of our lineup, which has been good for us because he’s hitting with a startup offense for us when we need it most,” senior captain Spencer Branigan said.

Looking at the stats in both hockey and baseball, one can’t help but wonder where the power in this powerhouse comes from. For Vilardo, it’s his work ethic.

“I know that nobody works harder than me,” he said. “Nothing comes easy in this world, especially at the Division I level.”

On the other hand, for Vilardo’s family and teammates, it’s all about his drive and attitude.

“You’re either driven or you’re not driven, and Michael was just born that way,” his father said. “Ever since he was a little kid, he always wanted to be the best at whatever he was doing.”

“No matter if he’s struggling or if he’s hitting it really well, he’s always the same,” Branigan added. “He’s always very confident in himself, in his hitting — if it’s a big situation in the game and we need him to step up, I know he’ll be confident enough to get the job done.”

Whatever it is that fuels him, Vilardo hopes to take it all the way to the pros.

“That’s all I’m working for, is to get an opportunity to play professional baseball,” he said. “That’s what motivates me every day. Division I is a great opportunity and a great achievement, but it’s definitely not my end game.”


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