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Football injury turns Andrew Gallegos in DH … for now.

For baseball, Naperville Central’s Andrew Gallegos had to adjust his game.

“In my sophomore year, I had a torn labrum in football that limited me from playing the field for the whole spring and summer season,” he said. “That was really hard.”

The immediate consequence of the injury was to make him a full-time designated hitter.

He maintained that role during his just completed junior season.

Situationally, Gallegos did see some action playing first base, third base and backing up standout catcher Colin Barczi, a Vanderbilt recruit.

Being a DH is not always easy to accept emotionally, especially for a young player with ambition like Gallegos.

“It’s tough being a DH, especially in this weather we often played in,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stock said. “You get that one at-bat, and if it doesn’t go your way, you can’t shake it off the way a shortstop, center fielder or pitcher can.”

Gallegos learned to become a student of the game, closely watching his own pitchers and the opposition from the perspective of the dugout.

He examined different scenarios, looking for tendencies and how to optimize his plate appearances.

“The injury definitely allowed me more time watching the pitchers, although I would have liked to be in the field,” he said. “It made me think about my at-bats.”

Still, Gallegos flourished in his capacity as a run generator, becoming a crucial part of the Redhawks’ vaunted attack. He hit for power and efficiency.

Playing in all 30 games, Gallegos batted .325, including a .500 on-base percentage and .639 slugging percentage. He had 32 runs, eight homers and 27 RBIs.

Gallegos, who earned all-conference and all-area recognition, was someone Naperville Central could count on, according to Illinois-Chicago commit Pambos Nicoloudes.

“He is a player you want up in a big situation,” Nicoloudes said. “Playing with Andrew has been a lot of fun. He always brings energy.”

Even in a reduced capacity as a sophomore, Gallegos hinted at a bright future.

He attributed his breakout season to the confidence and trust from within the program.

“No matter the outcome of my performance, I had constant support from my teammates and coaches,” he said. “They knew I had the ability to hit the ball hard and contribute to the team.

“Whenever I was struggling, they made it easy for me to forget and get ready for my next at-bat.”

The pandemic-adjusted football schedule in spring 2021 meant he had a quick turnaround for the baseball season.

In making a complete recovery as a junior, Gallegos also grew into his body.

“Most of the balls in play are hit really hard and that leads to hits,” he said. “Even if I hit it at a defender, there’s always the possibility of them making a mistake.”

At the same time, Gallegos showed discipline and a keen eye at the plate as illustrated by 24 walks.

“There’s always a job to do when you’re up there,” he said. “I never went into an at-bat thinking about a home run or nothing.

“If I did get a hold of some pitches, that allowed me to show off some power.”

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Gallegos had the best of both worlds too. Perched in the middle of the order, he frequently faced run-scoring opportunities.

As the No. 5 hitters, he typically operated outside of high-pressure expectations.

“It was very stress relieving knowing the whole lineup is capable of driving in runs and getting on base,” he said.

His focus this summer is improving on the subtleties of the game while creating more productive outs like sacrifice flies or moving runners.

His career is moving like home runs — upward.

“There’s nothing Andrew can’t do on the baseball field,” Stock said.

Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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