Prep Baseball Report

2016 Illinois Player of the Year: Providence 2B Mike Madej

Mike Madej

By Mike Helfgot

They call it the Sam Travis Net.

Named after - and erected for - the former Providence Catholic star, the net was put up to protect softball players on the field adjacent to Providence Catholic's baseball from Travis's prodigious home runs.

Five years later, Mike Madej took pride in blasting moonshots over the net. In batting practice.

“We’d always give him crap about it,” Providence teammate Zack Pych said. “We’d say, ‘When are you going to do it in a game?’”

About as strong as a 5-foot-10 high school second baseman comes, Madej does not have the power tool that characterized Travis’s Prep Baseball Report Illinois Player of the Year season in 2011.

The Purdue recruit’s speed, apparent on the basepaths and the football field, registered unexciting numbers at showcase events.

The arm, plenty strong for his position, did not excite scouts either.

Loud tools are not necessarily his thing. Winning baseball most certainly is.

Mike MadejA four-year varsity player, a line-drive machine, a legendarily clutch performer and an all-time gamer, nobody made a greater contribution to the only state-championship three-peat in Illinois high school baseball history, and nobody in the state was more valuable in 2016.

Madej is PBR’s Player of the Year in Illinois.

“The thing that stands out with Mikey is his humility,” Providence coach Mark Smith said. “He never wanted or looked for accolades. He went out from day one and played the game the right way.

“He wants to be great. He worked incredibly hard to put himself in position to fulfill a dream of playing Division I baseball, and he will go down as of the greatest players ever at Providence.”


Not until December of his senior year did a major-conference college coach open his arms to Madej, which is somewhat ironic considering he had proven himself in by far the state’s strongest conference - the vaunted Chicago Catholic League Blue - way back as a freshman.

He spent the first several weeks of that 2013 season crushing sophomore pitching, and Smith didn't see any reason to keep him on that level.

“He needed to be challenged,” Smith said.

“I was nervous,” Madej said. “I probably started 0-for-15. “Coach Smith talked to me, kind of like, 'Loosen up, man.’”

Smith remembers the start more like 0-for-8 - in his version Madej followed with seven straight hits - but either way, the talk clearly worked.

Madej officially went 8-for-31 with six walks in 38 varsity plate appearances as a freshman, paving the way for him to perform like a veteran the following spring for a state-championship that would prominently feature three other sophomores: Pych, shortstop Jackson Stulas and catcher Jimmy Jeffries.

The foursome has 12 championship rings between them - 14 counting those earned by Madej and Pych as starting defensive backs on Providence’s Class 7A championship football team in 2014.

“The camaraderie we had is one of the big reasons we kept winning,” Madej said. “We all knew we had each other’s backs.”


Batting-practice power notwithstanding, Madej does not fit anybody’s profile of a cleanup hitter, yet he found himself in the four-hole in the 2014 championship game as a sophomore.

The Celtics were in what became a familiar underdog role against St. Rita that day, having gone 0-3 by scores of 8-1, 14-1 and 10-4 against their Catholic Blue rivals during their 21-14 regular season.

The postseason, though, was becoming Providence’s to own, and Madej hinted at many clutch performances to come by going 3-for-3 in the Celtics’ 4-1 upset victory.

Madej delivered two of the timeliest hits in Providence’s rich history the following postseason.

With the Celtics down to their final out in the sectional semifinals against Marist, he lined a single to drive in the tying run and force extra innings in an eventual 3-2 victory.

It was the first of five consecutive one-run victories that postseason, culminated by a 6-5 victory over a Division 1-laden Mount Carmel team which went 2-0 against Providence in the regular season.

Madej had another three-hit title game, including a key single as the Celtics forced extra innings with a run in the bottom of the seventh and the game-winner in the bottom of the eighth.

“Time after time, he found a way to come through,” Smith said. “The pressure never really got to to him.”

“We have the game on DVD and sometimes me and my dad watch it,” Madej said. “I fouled off a couple balls, just missed them I really looked so locked in. I guess without trying to I’m able to lock in a little more in those situations.”


The bliss of winning two state championships in the same school year turned to frustration as the summer months melted away.

Dozens of Illinois prospects in his class had accepted scholarship offers, virtually none as accomplished as Madej.

Yet as his senior year was set to begin, Western Michigan was the only Division I program showing interest.

“I’m seeing all these kids committing,” Madej said, “and I know I’m just as good of a hitter, just as good of a player. The feedback I was getting is, ‘You are a great hitter,’ but there was always something wrong with my game.”

“I sat there and thought, ‘Why is this kid getting overlooked?’” Smith said. “I talked to a ton of schools. They liked him, but it was always something holding them back.”

Madej was not ready to give up his dream of playing Division I baseball.

Football became a casualty of that quest, and Providence’s 31-28 victory over Cary-Grove in the 2014 state final turned out to be his swan song.

“Those were my first friends when I got to Providence and didn’t know anybody that August at the start of football. Those are my close friends. They understood. They all knew where I was coming from.”

The goal was to get more exposure and continue to fine-tune his skills.

Madej estimates he got an additional 200 at-bats out of the decision, and he continued to get stronger with daily 6 a.m. workouts.

Though Western Michigan remained in the picture, junior college was becoming the likely destination when Purdue invited him to campus for a visit in December.

“When we originally went there, they told Mikey, ‘We think you can make a difference. We’re not sure what’s going to happen with the draft, so if something opens up we will have something for you as a freshman and sophomore,” said Mike Madej Sr., Madej’s father and a member of Oak Forest’s 1985 state-championship team.

“But they said, ‘Right now we only have money for you as a junior and senior.’ We were kind of depressed. No way we could swing Purdue for two years.”

With all realistic hope lost, Madej turned to the man upstairs.

On a religious retreat taken by Providence seniors two weeks after Purdue gave him the bad news, he prayed for a resolution.

While Madej was on the retreat, Purdue did some retreating of its own.

“When we picked him up, we told him to call the Purdue coach,” Madej Sr. said. “The coach told him he found some money for us. He hung up the phone and couldn’t believe it. There were tears in his eyes. He said he was literally praying for this. You hear about a come to Jesus moment, this was literally a come to Jesus moment.”


The 2016 season was a fitting end to a remarkable run by Madej and his teammates.

Even with four veterans of back-to-back state-championship teams, the Celtics were not the preseason favorites and did not possess anywhere near the most Division I talent in the Catholic Blue.

They finished tied for third place in the league, in fact, which is more of an accomplishment than anybody not familiar with Catholic Blue baseball could possibly understand.

Madej put together the big season everyone expected of him - .446 batting average, 17 doubles, three triples, 2 homers, 30 RBI, 45 runs in 42 games - and exactly nobody was surprised to see Providence back at Silver Cross Field in Joliet for the state finals come June.

The roles were reversed this time as Providence took on first-timer Mundelein in the championship game, and it was the Celtics who played like they’ve never been there before.

“All of our players were tight,” Madej said. “It was obvious, and looking back you can definitely tell.”

Mundelein scored three unearned runs in the first inning and led 3-1 through four when Smith initiated a conversation similar to the one he had with Madej back in 2013.

“It was the fifth inning when I finally brought them up and said, ‘This isn’t us. This isn’t the way we play. Smile. Go play. Have fun,’” Smith said. “All of a sudden we had some guys on base, and once the game was tied you could see in their eyes - we are winning.

“It was never a cocky group, never arrogant, just confidence and belief in each other.”

For the third straight year, Madej delivered three hits in the title game, and he added three RBI as the Celtics rallied to win 10-3.

It was their 21st consecutive postseason victory, a feat Madej’s father likened to a professional team winning 21 straight Game 7s.

“I still don’t think it has sunk in,” the younger Madej said. “I don’t think it will for a couple years. Three in a row, it is pretty special.”

Photo by: Paul Bergstrom

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