IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa first baseman Jake Adams said he didn’t have a clue where he’s ranked among the nation’s college home run hitters.
Was he joking? It’s hard to tell. Either way, he’s got a good reason why not to discuss or even look at the individual standings.
“I just don’t like that pressure,” Adams said. “Obviously, we have games to play, so I want to keep as little of pressure on myself as I can so I got to keep going out there and playing my game and do anything I can to help our team win.”
Adams, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior, ranks second nationally with 24 home runs. He leads the Big Ten in that category by 9. He leads the league in RBIs by 8. His 159 total bases dwarfs the runner-up, who has 118. He and teammate Robert Neustrom are tied atop the league standings with 73 hits. Adams ranks fourth in league batting average at .344. With the Hawkeyes (34-19) seeded fifth in this week’s Big Ten Tournament, Adams has a chance to pad those numbers.
It’s perhaps the greatest single-season hitting performance in Iowa baseball history. Adams blew past the school home run record of 22 with two shots Friday night at Illinois. It surprised even those closest to him because the wind was blowing straight in on a chilly night in Champaign.
“I was disappointed and I questioned him whether he was going to get it, and I shouldn’t have,” Iowa hitting coach Sean Moore said. “He proved me wrong. A side-level slider, he hit it and I went, ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’ Then to get another one on top of it later. It’s stupid to watch him hit.”
“I’m always on the on-deck circle,” Neustrom said. “I always get the best view in the house.”
Adams’ record-breaker in the first inning stands out even more than the next one, which came seven innings later.
“My body went numb,” Adams said. “I knew I did something that not a lot of people have a chance to do, obviously, and put my name in the record book here. So, obviously, that was the biggest one, and I’ll always cherish that for the rest of my life.”
It also wasn’t supposed to happen at Iowa. Adams grew up in Brandon, S.D., and attended Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) for two seasons. Last spring, he was a first-team All-American with 25 home runs, 75 RBIs and 59 runs with a .360 batting average.
Adams signed to play baseball at North Dakota, but that program was eliminated after the 2016 season. The decision was made so late that most programs had little scholarship money available. Several schools called him daily to offer walk-on opportunities. Adams also could wait until after the draft in June and see if a roster spot opened somewhere else.
Moore, who grew up in Iowa City and played one year for the Hawkeyes, was Adams’ hitting coach at DMACC last spring before joining the Hawkeyes in January. He quickly pointed Adams toward Iowa, which had some scholarship funding left over.
“Once I got him here and showed him the campus, it was pretty easy,” Moore said. “When we were driving home, he was excited about it.
“I think what helps is it’s Iowa, it’s the Big Ten, but we have a South Dakota feel,” said Moore, adding that Adams loves to hunt and fish. “‘It’s going to be heaven for you because you’re going to have the competitive baseball side of it, but you’re also going to have the extra stuff that you like to do on the side.'”
Still, adjusting from junior-college pitching to the Big Ten is not always easy. With Moore’s encouragement, the right-handed Adams tightened up his swing. Instead of trying to pull every pitch to left field, he would hit to the opposite field. He was more selective at the plate. Adams made strides as a defender as well.
“We knew he had the power coming in, but you really never know what type of hitter the kid is until he gets here,” Iowa coach Rick Heller said. “Soon after his arrival we realized we had something special because he had a lot aptitude. He was willing to listen to new ideas.
“A lot of times you get a kid who comes from a junior-college program, they’ve been really successful with big numbers like that and they’ll look at you like why would I want to change this or why would I want to do this because I’m already good enough to do it? Jake was never that way.”
Adams has a decision to make after the season. With those power numbers, he’ll get drafted. He also has a year left at Iowa. Will he stay or go? That depends on where he’s selected.
“That’s a no-brainer, obviously top-10 rounds,” Adams said. “The money has to be right, but I don’t have a set amount. I still have a year left here. If it doesn’t come down to the right money or the right round I can come back here.”
“I told him it’s up to you,” Moore said. “If they give you what you think you’re worth, go for it. Keep chasing that up because who knows what can happen down the road.”