WEST WINDSOR: Jensen’s latest step leads to pro baseball

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
It took just a little longer than he expected to start, but Joe Jensen is just where he expected to be following graduation from Hamilton College.
The former three-sport standout at Hamilton, and a West Windsor-Plainsboro North graduate, signed a professional baseball contract with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League.
“I’ve soaked in my college experience thinking about all the success I’ve had,” Jensen said. “I don’t think I’ve soaked in the pro experience because I expected to be here. I expected to play at some professional level. I’m enjoying my time to improve myself and get as far as I can.”
Jensen was thrown right into the mix. He was in the lineup as a designated hitter on his first day with the Miners, quite a jump after being off since the close of the college season.
“I hadn’t played a game for two months,” Jensen said. “I was definitely surprised to be thrown in the first day I signed in the DH role. That was definitely different.”
Jensen had another stellar season in his final year at Hamilton. He led the team with a .398 batting average, 47 hits, had six doubles, three triples and a home run. He stole 24 bases to bring his school-record career total to 78. He also had four assists in the outfield.
“I thought I did what I had to do to get looks,” said Jensen, who earned a degree in Comparative Literature with a Creative Writing minor. “I reproduced all my numbers, improved my power, stole all my bases and my team had a successful season with a winning record. It’s not like I underperformed at all.”
He also picked up All-America honors in two events at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and had been a NESCAC all-conference receiver in football until he shifted his focus to baseball and track this year.
“There’s no way I could professionally do all three sports,” Jensen said. “I was going to take a shot at something. Out of the three sports, baseball was my best shot.”
Jensen was named a NESCAC all-star at the end of the baseball season. Back in March, he was named the No. 1 prospect in Division III by “Baseball America.” He was not drafted in the major league draft however, and the Miners presented an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up.
“I was definitely a little bummed, but you have to keep moving, have to keep working,” Jensen said. “It wasn’t an end-all for me. I’m just happy the Miners are giving me an opportunity. This is a very good situation to be in. They have a good fan base. The management treats their players right.”
Jensen had looked around, but found in Southern Illinois some of the things that can help give him a path to his dreams.
“This team seemed like a good fit,” Jensen said. “They had one of the better hitting coaches. That’s definitely the part of my game I need to work on. I’m trying to make the most of my practice time. Even if I’m not playing, I have all the time before the game and in practice to work with the coach.”
Jensen has been working with Miners hitting coach Pat O’Sullivan to develop his swing for the professional game. Through Tuesday’s games, Jensen is still looking for his first professional hit,
“The biggest thing is staying through the ball,” Jensen said. “I was always having a very rotational swing. I’m working on having a swing that is shorter and can be replicated every time. You can’t have a long swing in this league.”
Aside from the rust from not playing in two months, Jensen feels comfortable with the level of pitching that he is seeing in the Frontier League.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t say it’s that much of a jump,” Jensen said. “The only difference is consistency. If a guy is throwing 95-plus, he’s already signed by an MLB team. The guys I’m seeing are comparable to the guys I’d be seeing on the weekends in my conference.”
The Frontier League has a mix of players that have already played in the minor leagues and some players looking for their chance to break through and be seen by a major league team.
“There are definitely people that have been one step away and what not,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of talent around and I’m trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can. It’s tough to come on to a team where everyone has solidified a position. I’m trying to fill my role.”
Jensen has already been able to use his speed to contribute. He has a stolen base and a run for the Miners. Since serving as DH, he has been in a reserve role.
“They didn’t talk about how to earn more time,” Jensen said. “I came in under the impression that they told me they had three good outfielders and did not have a back-up. I’m here to back up and pinch run when I can. I’m here to improve as much as I can with practice time. There’s a lot of opportunity to improve.
“It’s challenging because they raise the bar and you have to work your way up to it.”
Jensen is adjusting to being a professional baseball player. It’s a different lifestyle and a tighter focus than he has had in high school and college. He is into his third week with the team.
“It’s definitely a big change,” Jensen said. “You go from having so many other things going on to just to baseball. You show up at the clubhouse four hours before the game. It’s baseball for seven hours straight. It’s definitely a big change. It’s new scenery. I’ve never been out to Illinois before.”
Jensen felt prepared to take the next step after going to Hamilton out of WW-P North. Hamilton allowed him to explore playing three sports in a strong academic environment.
“I loved the experience,” he said. “I wouldn’t have changed my choice. I was challenged academically. That’s what I wanted. I wanted a school that would help me in getting a job to fall back on. I have a lot of supportive alumni in my corner to fall back on should I need a job after baseball.”
Jensen hasn’t thought of his plans beyond finishing this season with the Miners. He has an option for a second year with them, but his focus for now is on improving as much as he can in the final month of the Southern Illinois season.
“I try to take things one day at a time,” Jensen said. “It helps you keep focus a little bit more. Otherwise, seeing all the games, all the hours you have to put in, seems overwhelming.”
Jensen joined a Miners team that is doing well. They moved into first place last Friday, and with things going well, they aren’t looking for a lot of changes. Jensen is just trying to do his part to keep them playing well while developing his own game.
“I felt like I can compete at any level,” Jensen said. “With baseball, you have to have that level of confidence otherwise you’re just going to go up to the plate and get out every time. I just have to get back in the rhythm of things. I can’t be using the two months off as an excuse. I have to jump back in and hit the ground running.” 