Washington Nationals prospect Mike McQuillan quickly is making a name for himself in the minor league baseball ranks.
Actually, it’s a nickname that first was given to him during his playing days at the University of Iowa.
“It’s the biggest compliment you can get,” McQuillan said. “It means that you play the game hard and play the game the right way. You’re not afraid to get dirty.”
McQuillan, an Evergreen Park native and graduate of Brother Rice High School, made his mark during his four-year stay with the Hawkeyes. He ended his career at Iowa ranked first in singles (196), second in hits (242), fifth in at-bats (701), seventh in games played (193) and 11th in runs scored (133).
He never hit below .330. He never left the field with a clean jersey, either. He was known for sprinting everything out, diving to make plays in the field and doing whatever he could to help Iowa’s cause.
He has picked up right where he left off since being selected in the 33rd round of the June amateur draft by Washington. In 19 games with the Gulf Coast League Nationals, McQuillan hit .375 with one double, one triple and five RBIs. He also drew 11 walks and posted a .478 on-base percentage.
His red-hot start to his professional career earned him a quick promotion. McQuillan was assigned to the Auburn Doubledays of the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League on July 10. He is hitting .333 in four games (4-for-12) since joining the Doubledays.
He has dreamed of playing in the majors since he was a little boy.
“I grew up a White Sox fan,” McQuillan said. “I watched Robin Ventura, Harold Baines and Frank Thomas—all those guys. But you don’t get to see the behind-the-scenes stuff when you’re a fan.
“I’m fortunate. I’ve met (Nationals pitchers) Drew Storen and Cole Kimball, a few guys like that. They’re regular people, no different than you and I. They’re good guys. It’s cool to se that.”
McQuillan, 5-11 and 175 pounds, is a left-handed hitting second baseman cut from the mold of one of the game’s all-time greats, Pete Rose, and he knows what that means, if only from watching highlight-reel clips and documentary programs featuring Charlie Hustle on the ESPN family of TV channels.
“I’ve watched stuff on TV about him,” McQuillan said. “It’s special to see those highlights, to see the way he played—all-out, all the time. I think he deserves to be back in baseball. He is one of the best to ever set foot on the field.
“Just to watch him run the bases—as soon as he hits the ball, he’s at full speed. I don’t think he ever took a play off. That’s what you have to do. You can’t take anything for granted. The game doesn’t owe you anything. He never got cheated.
“He’s definitely somebody you could idolize from a baseball standpoint. If I make the majors, I’m not going to be a big power hitter. I might hit one or two out, but my role will be to put the ball in play and move runners along and hustle—just like that was his role.”
Friends Figure McQuillan Will Earn His Stripes
The similarities between how McQuillan goes about his business nowadays and how Rose played during his heyday aren’t limited to hitting.
McQuillan will continue to play second base for the Doubledays but, like Rose, also will be used on occasion at shortstop, third base or, even, in left field. One reason: Nationals second-round draft pick Tony Renda will get the majority of reps at second base, at least in the short term.
“Whatever it takes to get a spot in the everyday lineup, I’m all for it,” McQuillan said.
He called his parents, Bob and Karyn McQuillan, after learning he was headed to Auburn, N.Y.
“They were excited, happy for me,” Mike said. “They’re happy to see that my hard work is paying off. I’m with a first-place team. I’m going to do whatever I can to help this club win a league championship.”
His fan club includes his former college coach, Iowa’s Jack Dahm.
“I’m very excited for Mike,” Dahm said in an article on hawkeyesports.com after McQuillan was drafted. “He is one of the premier hitters to ever go through our program and is one of my favorite players I have ever coached. I am glad he is getting the opportunity to continue on and we wish him the best. Mike is a great kid, a hard worker and should do very well.”
McQuillan said the experience he gained playing at Iowa and in the Big Ten has served him well, on and off the field. He had to set the alarm clock and get up for classes. Nobody was there to hold his hand.
“Knowing what I know now, I’m glad I went to school,” he said. “I’ve already watched some kids from high school struggle. Those are the guys they’re going to mold—the high draft picks. But some just aren’t ready.
“And it’s not just baseball. It’s the first time they’ve been away from home. They have to learn how to manage their time and their money. College was good for me in that way. You’re on your own. You know you have responsibilities. It’s up to you to make sure you get to the field on time for practice. You have to get out of bed to get to class. You have to make good decisions.”
McQuillan kept his nose to the grindstone at Iowa. He has a degree in business management and might one day pursue a job in sales—but not today.
“I’ll play until they take my jersey away,” he said. “Then I’ll worry about starting my real life.”