An All-Star Hawkeye

July 7, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

KINSTON, N.C. —The midsummer classic for Major League Baseball is July 12 in Phoenix, but a University of Iowa alumnus has already enjoyed an all-star experience.

Justin Toole, a 2009 UI graduate, participated in the California League/Carolina League All-Star Game on June 21, in Modesto, Calif. Toole is a utility player for the Kinston (N.C.) Indians, the advanced Class A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. In his lone all-star at-bat, Toole grounded out to third base in the top of the seventh inning during the California League’s 6-1 victory.

“That’s definitely a highlight anytime you get to represent your team and your league in an all-star game,” Toole said. “It’s pretty cool. I’m living out a dream playing professionally.”

A graduate of Council Bluffs (Iowa) Lewis Central High School, Toole, who bats right and throws right, was a three-time third team all-Big Ten performer for the Hawkeyes from 2007-09. He was all-region as a junior and a preseason All-American as a senior. In 38 games as a senior, he batted .346 with 16 extra-base hits, 25 RBI and 15 stolen bases. The Indians signed Toole to a minor league free agent contract on July 7, 2009.

During his first season, Toole approached former Indian and Detroit Tiger third baseman Travis Fryman, now the hitting instructor for the Indians’ farm system.

“I asked him what I had to do to be valuable to the organization,” Toole said. “He told me to learn as many different positions as I could. He taught me the ropes at third base, I volunteered at first base, and last year I even played in the outfield a little bit.”

“That’s definitely a highlight anytime you get to represent your team and your league in an all-star game. It’s pretty cool. I’m living out a dream playing professionally.”
UI alumnus Justin Toole

Since the all-star break, Toole has played second base (June 24 at Salem and June 27 against Potomac), shortstop (June 28 against Potomac and June 30 at Myrtle Beach), first base (June 25 at Salem and July 1 at Myrtle Beach) and third base (June 25 at Salem).

Prior to Kinston’s July 6 game against Lynchburg (Braves), Toole was leading the Indians in batting (.268). Kinston finished the first half of the season 38-31, two games behind Myrtle Beach (Rangers) in the Southern Division. The Indians are currently 8-4 and have a game-and-a-half lead on Winston-Salem (White Sox) in the second half.

Professional baseball is a long grind. On June 1, Toole was hitting .298, so in an attempt to rest his all-star, Kinston manager Aaron Holbert has played him in just six of 12 games since the break. Toole did not see action in a three-game homestand against Frederick from July 2-4.

“I’ve had a little bit of a break; it’s been a long season,” Toole said. “I didn’t have an all-star break, so the coaches are giving me a chance to recover.”

Toole has the distinction of playing in the longest game in Carolina League history, going 3-for-8 with an RBI as the Indians defeated Myrtle Beach, 3-2, in 23 innings on June 12.

“It was crazy to be part of such a long game,” Toole said. “I got lucky — I played third base and I didn’t have far to run into the dugout between innings.”

Toole says playing in Kinston all year has made life easier in his second full minor league season. A year ago he saw action in four different leagues at the A, AA and AAA level. Because of his versatility, he was called as an emergency replacement to play one game for Syracuse in the AAA International League.

It wasn’t hard for Toole to switch his allegiances after growing up a Yankees and Derek Jeter fan.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity and I don’t think I could have picked a better organization,” Toole said. “I love it.”

Like all minor leaguers, Toole has his eyes on making the parent club in Cleveland. But he knows it won’t happen overnight.

“I take it one day at a time and whatever happens, happens,” Toole said. “You have to be patient; it’s a process and I am just waiting for my opportunities.”

Toole, who graduated from the UI with degrees in psychology and health and sport studies, continues to follow the Hawkeye baseball program. His younger brother, Eric, will join the team as an outfielder in the fall.

“He got the good genes,” Toole said with a laugh. “He bats left-handed and he has speed.”