FILE - Iowa center fielder Justin Jenkins celebrates his single with an RBI during game two of the Iowa-Purdue series at Duane Banks Stadium on Saturday, March 25, 2017. The native of Terra Haute, Indiana, plays in the Prospects Summer League for his hometown Terra Haute Rex. (Margaret Kispert/The Daily Iowan, file)

Hopin’ home cookin’ is a boost

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Iowa baseball player Justin Jenkins hopes to use his summer in his hometown to prove he deserves a home in the Hawkeye lineup.

By Jordan Zuniga

jordan-zuniga@uiowa.edu

Most college athletes are forced to be away from home during their summer training, but that is not true for Iowa baseball’s Justin Jenkins.

Jenkins is lucky enough to be able to play in a summer league while spending the summer in his hometown. The native of Terra Haute, Indiana, plays in the Prospects Summer League for his hometown Terra Haute Rex.

“It’s always a pleasure to come back home and play,” Jenkins said. “It’s really nice being involved in the community playing. It’s a lot of fun representing not only Iowa but also my hometown at the collegiate level. The Rex try to get guys from all over the world; we have a couple kids from the Dominican Republic. It’s a lot of fun playing with guys not only from Terra Haute but from all over.”

This summer, Jenkins hopes to improve his offensive ability — he struggled with the bat last year. Most of his playing time came as a defensive replacement, and in the little bit he did get to swing the bat, he was subpar.

In 27 at-bats, Jenkins managed only 4 hits, and he struck out 10 times, which aren’t numbers that scream starter.

“I’ve been really working on my hitting,” Jenkins said. “In my exit meeting with Coach [Rick] Heller, we really sat down and discussed hitting as the main goal and my focus for this summer. I need to stay aggressive with the fastball because I’m not going to see a lot of off-speed pitches. I really need to stay aggressive with fastballs early in the count.”

So far this summer, Jenkins has definitely seen an improvement in his hitting. Through 22 games (81 at-bats), he’s hitting .259 with a homer and 8 RBIs. But a key number is he has struck out only 16 times.

While that strikeout number may not be as low as he wants, it still is significantly lower than it was during the spring.

He hopes he can continue to improve his skills at the plate this summer in order to compete for a starting job next spring.

Once Jenkins’ summer league ends, he and the Hawkeyes will travel to Taiwan to compete for the United States in the World University Games, an opportunity that the 5-10 sophomore is excited about.

“I’m excited to see the overall competition and getting to see how baseball is played in other countries,” Jenkins said. “We are playing in a pool with Japan, China, and Russia, and I’m really interested to see how they play the game and the differences between how we play in the U.S. versus how they play where they’re from.”

The Hawkeyes and Jenkins hope to make Iowa and the rest of the country proud in late August when the games begin.

The trip gives Jenkins a chance to not only learn the game in other cultures but also prove to Iowa that he deserves a spot in the starting lineup.

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