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Kindred

Division I colleges weren't swarming Jake Marti when he graduated from Normal West High School. A stellar baseball career with the Wildcats had attracted one Division I offer.

Marti turned down Eastern Illinois, a "thanks but no thanks" kind of thing. While the rest of Division I had shown little faith, Marti had plenty.

He believed in himself.

"I knew if I gave myself a year or two to develop, I could go somewhere that I could dream of," he said.

Marti stayed home to attend Heartland Community College, where last spring he batted .340 with four home runs, 33 runs batted, an .865 OPS and 24 stolen bases in 28 attempts.

Division I coaches were interested, the dream was taking shape. 

But this?

Michigan? Last year's national runner-up?

That's where Marti is headed after taking an official visit to Ann Arbor two weekends ago. He will sign with the Wolverines next month and become the first Heartland baseball player to play at Michigan.

"It's definitely surreal," Marti said.

Marti also took visits to Purdue, Wright State and Indiana State. Others pursuing him included St. John's, Southern Illinois, Coastal Carolina and Campbell University.

The guy nobody wanted had options, but after the trip to Michigan, only one mattered.

Here's why:

"The development part of it is big," Marti said. "The coaches were great. The overall campus, I really enjoyed that. It felt like home when I got there.

"They took me to a football game and the energy was amazing. The facilities are second to none really. And they talked about what a Michigan degree can do for you, how it can basically set you up for life."

In other words, Michigan knocked it out of the park.

The Wolverines' coaching staff had contacted Heartland coach Jimmy Frankos, expressing an interest. When Heartland played its first fall game at Indianapolis, Michigan had a coach there.

"It took off from there," Marti said.

How did this happen? How can a guy rise that far that fast?

You put in the work. Marti has transformed himself physically. 

As a senior at Normal West, he was 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. Currently, he is 6-4 and 215.

"I've leaned out a lot since high school," he said.

It has taken his speed from good to outstanding, with Marti running the 60-yard dash in 6.25 seconds this fall.

Primarily a first baseman at West and last spring, he transitioned to the outfield this summer with the Bloomington Bobcats. Michigan projects him as a guy who can run down fly balls.

"They plan to put me in center field probably," Marti said. "They like that I'm a switch hitter and they say the power is there. That's the thing they really need to develop with me. I had a lot of singles last year and they want me to get to where I'm elevating the ball and driving it."

It will be among Marti's goals for his sophomore season at Heartland. Then it will be off to Ann Arbor, where he may major in biology.

Frankos will tell you whatever Marti does, he'll get there quickly.

"Jake is one of the top athletes in the country and he's one of the fastest guys in the country," Frankos said. "His baseball tools are off the charts.

"They were looking for someone to come in and play the outfield and hit in the middle of the order. He was a perfect fit."

Let that sink in. One offer in high school, now a "perfect fit" at Michigan.

Who saw that coming?

The only guy who matters.

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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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