You can bet Michael Collins dreamed of this. Any kid with a passion for baseball has played out a version in his mind, and Collins loved the game more than most.

Likely, his went like this: People throughout Illinois and beyond sit down in front of their televisions, flip on a Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox game and see Collins belting a home run.

It's here now. It's happening.

Collins is in a Heartland Community College uniform and the ballpark is in Enid, Oklahoma. So it's not exactly what he might have envisioned.

Yet, five years after his tragic death at the hands of a drunk driver, Collins is going deep, trotting around the bases and making a difference that goes well beyond a scoreboard.

His home run in the 2012 NJCAA Division II World Series is part of the Illinois Department of Transportation's statewide "Life or Death Illinois" campaign that spotlights people who have died on Illinois roadways. The ads are running throughout the year on TV, radio and digital platforms.

The one featuring Collins, which began to air in May, has been getting "quite a response," according to IDOT Director of Communications Guy Tridgell.

Jim Collins, Michael's father, can attest.

"We've gotten calls and seen posts from all over the place from people who have seen the ad, whether it be on Facebook or watching a White Sox game or Pandora. It certainly has gotten a lot of attention," Jim Collins said.

"When they (IDOT representatives) called me it kind of caught me off guard. When they asked if we had a video we'd like to use, the first thing that came to mind was that video."

Michael Collins played baseball at Normal West High School and was in his second year at Heartland in 2012 when he hit the home run. He was playing in the NJCAA Division II World Series at the same time his father's University High School team was winning the Class 2A state championship in Peoria.

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Thus, Jim Collins has only seen that treasured trip around the bases via video. He found it on YouTube and sent it to IDOT. The quality of the video was not ideal, but IDOT made it work.

Now, it is working for the Michael Collins Foundation run by Jim Collins and his wife, Kelly.

"A big part of why we started the foundation was to help bring awareness to drunk driving," Jim Collins said. "We feel like we've done some of that. This campaign has kind of taken it to a different level.

"It's certainly not something we could have produced on our own. We've been able to share it through the foundation sites and the foundation has over 5,000 followers. I think it's reached a lot of people. The reaction has been pretty amazing."

Michael Collins was 22 and nearing his graduation from Illinois State when he died. His death spawned a national Pay it Forward campaign that warmed the hearts of those who knew and loved him.

Now they are seeing him again, if only for a few seconds in an ad with a powerful message.

"It has surprised a lot of people. You're watching a baseball game and all of a sudden Michael Collins is up there," Jim Collins said. "It's pretty special, especially five years later (after Michael's death).

"Most importantly to us is the ads are very impactful. If you go on the (IDOT) website and see the others they've used, they are short and very impactful."

So was Michael Collins' swing on that memorable home run. Watching it will give you goosebumps, and give drivers pause before they get behind the wheel.

Touch them all, Michael.


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


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