Written by Jason Maholy
Photo by Jeff Vorva
Brother Rice’s Jimmy Baker practices a jump on Saturday. The senior is participating in both volleyball and track this season, a year after suffering serious leg injuries.
Brother Rice volleyball player Jimmy Baker entered the spring sports season with an eye on competing for a state title.
In the long jump. Perhaps the triple jump, too.
And he might as well go for the gold in the 200-meter dash and four-by-200-meter relay.
Baker, a senior from Oak Lawn, is gunning for a spot in the Illinois High School Association boys state finals while also being the best player on a volleyball team that has aspirations to make a deep post-season run. And all of this with a leg that was seriously injured a year ago next week.
As a sophomore, Baker was named the 2015 Catholic League Player of the Year in volleyball, and he and the Crusaders were off to a good start last season when disaster struck. As the 6-foot-2 outside hitter came down after making a kill, he landed on a teammate's foot. He sustained a fractured fibula and a seriously sprained ankle
Baker remembers the moment well.
“I was watching the ball, and as I was coming down and landed I heard it crack; but it didn't hit me until I was on the ground that my ankle was cracking,” he said. “It was pretty awful.”
The sprain was actually worse than the fracture, Baker said, but what was even more painful was being relegated to the role of an observer helpless to assist a deep, talented team that had lofty goals but ended at the sectional level.
“The week prior we had been playing really well, so we were enjoying the success of the season and were looking forward to the playoffs,” he said. “Our team was really good. It was hard watching, knowing I couldn’t help at all, I could do is watch.’’
After intensive physical therapy, Baker was back on the court playing club ball within eight weeks, and after the club season had about three months to rest before the start of training for his senior season at Rice.
He came into his final high school campaign planning to leave it all on the court, but figured he may as well leave it all on the track too. He plays volleyball during the week, and on weekends he doesn't have tournaments, he competes for the Crusaders track team in the long jump, triple jump, 200-meter dash and 4x200 relay.
“I always wanted to join track, but I just figured I never could because of volleyball,” he said. “But I worked it out. Senior year came around and I thought I might as well go for it. It's a lot of fun... I figure it out day to day, pretty much.”
Baker's brother, Pat, was a standout jumper at Rice nearly a decade ago.
“He was just a great athlete, and me being little, I would watch him and think, 'I want to do that,'” he recalled.
Baker competed in the indoor track season and at the Chicago Catholic League conference meet placed fourth in the long jump (20 feet, 9 inches) and sixth in the triple jump (40-4.75).
“My vertical is pretty good, so I figured if I joined track I could do well,” he said. “I was kind of just hoping the coach would try to get me on the pole (vault).
“I'm trying to qualify for state, qualify for volleyball state, and win multiple state titles.”
He enrolled at the University of Tennessee and is going to try to walk on the men’s track team although he could scotch those plans if he is accepted into the Coast Guard Academy.