When Mike Vilardo began his baseball career at the University of Pennsylvania, he made a decision. That decision was to leave hockey behind and pursue baseball.
Since his junior year at Cary-Grove, Vilardo had been a dual-sport athlete. He played hockey for several teams, including Cary-Grove, the USA 18-under team, University of Richmond's club team, and the Chicago Steel, a junior hockey league team. In the same span, he played baseball for Cary-Grove, the Cincinnati Reds' scout team and Penn.
After two seasons at Penn, the 2011 Northwest Herald Male Athlete of the Year is on the move again. This time to Purdue, where he'll play out the two remaining years of collegiate eligibility and chase his dream of playing baseball professionally.
“I'm excited about playing with such winners and people who are determined to help me and my baseball future,” said Vilardo, who did not play baseball in college until arriving at Penn. “I'm also looking forward for a chance to play against some of the top programs in the country.”
Because of an Ivy League regulation that permits any student taking graduate classes from participating in athletics, Vilardo's career at Penn was cut short. What he lacked in longevity, he made up for in production.
In his first season at Penn, Vilardo was the Big 5 Rookie of the Year. This season, he was named second-team All-Ivy.
As the end of his sophomore season approached, Vilardo knew he wanted to attend a Big Ten school. He had received interest and visited several colleges, including Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana. But Purdue stood out.
They could give Vilardo not only an opportunity on the field, but in the classroom as well, something that's been crucial for Vilardo – who once, in one semester, took 30 credit hours between McHenry County College and Harper College to receive baseball eligibility upon arriving at Penn. After classes this summer, the self-proclaimed perfectionist will have received degrees in philosophy, politics and economics.
“Anything that involved me competing was what I was interested in,” Vilardo said. “I've always liked to compete, on and off the field.”
Vilardo also views Purdue as the best avenue to reach the majors. In the past two years, Purdue has had nine players selected in the MLB draft.
“They're very honest and passionate about baseball,” Vilardo said about Purdue's coaches. “They will do whatever it takes to help you become a better player and in turn a better team.”
When Vilardo arrives in West Lafayette, he'll see some familiar faces. Aside from meeting several members of the team in his visit, Vilardo is friends with Boilermakers pitcher Patrick Kenney, whom Vilardo met while playing for the Reds' scout team. Ever since, they've kept in touch. So when Vilardo was preparing to transfer to another school, Kenney's opinion, and presence, held significant weight.
“He's a really smart kid, so I told him how great the academics are, how great the coaching is, and how they've always been there for me and have always been able to help me out,” Kenney said. “I just told him about how much support you have when you're at Purdue.”
Although Vilardo is on the move again, he hopes it isn't the last change of scenery for him. If an MLB team drafts him, he'll have to pack up and move again. And even if that never occurs, Vilardo feels vindicated in his decision several years ago to pursue baseball.
“There's been a lot of second guessing and questioning, not just by myself, but from outsiders as well,” he said. “But I think this move to Purdue gratifies my choice to play baseball.
“Even if I don't play professionally, I got as much out of sports as possible.”