Junior outfielder Michael Boyce offers a new take on things for Naperville Central.
He’s not getting a late start on the varsity. He’s not batting at the bottom of the order anymore. He’s not just trying to figure things out and gain some confidence.
“This year is my time to shine,” he said.
As a sophomore, the opposite was nearer to the truth.
“Last year, I didn’t come up to the varsity until the first month of the season,” he said. “I batted eight in the order. I was just happy to be here.”
Now, Boyce is happy to be batting third for the Redhawks (20-5, 11-4), who are riding a 10-game winning streak in earning a share of the DuPage Valley Conference title.
It’s a coveted spot in the order behind Division I recruits Pambos Nicoloudes (Illinois-Chicago) and Colin Barczi (Vanderbilt), both of whom set the table for Boyce.
“I feel with those two guys hitting before me, it takes the pressure off,” Boyce said. “It also gives me a lot of opportunities to get guys in, brings the whole energy of the team up.”
Boyce has stepped up and justified his status in the lineup, hitting .333 with 24 runs, seven stolen bases, two home runs and 17 RBIs.
When Boyce faced lower expectations and the ability to ease into the lineup as a sophomore, he took a proactive approach to the moment.
“The experience I had last year has definitely played a role in my numbers this year,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the confidence I do now if this were my first time out.”
One of the things he learned was to never back down at the plate.
“I have a bulldog mentality up there,” Boyce said. “I just pick out my best pitch to hit — a curve or wait on the outside pitch and do whatever I can.”
Barczi, a junior catcher, praised Boyce’s enthusiasm and hustle.
“If I had to describe Mike in a few words, it would be passionate, energetic, and dedicated,” Barczi said. “He works hard and it shows. He also pushes everyone else to work hard.
“You can tell he loves what he does by the way he plays.”
Boyce credits having a full basketball season under his belt as ideal preparation for a breakout baseball season.
During the winter, Boyce was a high-energy forward who excelled as a rebounder and defender.
“Basketball helped me so much this year,” Boyce said. “We only had a six-week season last year. I feel so much looser now.
“Basketball helped a lot with my strength and all the running we did. It helped condition my arm.”
Nicoloudes, a junior shortstop, also played basketball with Joyce.
“Mike brings the energy,” Nicoloudes said. “He will usually give a little pregame speech to get everyone going. He makes his presence known.
“He’s a hardworking guy who wants to be able to get the job done.”
The 6-foot-2 Boyce combines size, range and speed. His speed is not only reflected by his stolen bases. He’s been superb defensively in left field.
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“I just love the culture of baseball,” Boyce said. “It’s probably different from any other. There is something so unique about the game.
“You have that showdown — the batter and the pitcher. You don’t really get that in any other sport.”
Boyce’s father, Colin, who grew up in Milwaukee, earned a walk-on spot at Michigan State.
Now, Michael bats in front of a Colin as Naperville Central turns his attention to a crucial stage of the season with the DVC Tournament and the upcoming playoffs.
“We can’t take any opponents lightly,” Boyce said. “At this point, we’re very loose. Our chemistry team is a lot higher than it was earlier in the season.
“We know what we can do.”
Patrick Z. McGavin is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.