By CARL GREEN
Granite City – What does the guy who holds the highest batting average record in the NCAA do all summer?
Well, yes, he plays some ball all right, but Mike Failoni is also a member of Laborers Local 397 in Madison County, and he worked jobs with the union all summer before going back to school this fall.
Failoni, age 21 and from Edwardsville, made short work of pitchers in the spring collegiate season, hitting .500 for the Lindenwood University Lions in St. Charles.
He’s a first baseman in that Don Mattingly mode – a lefty hitting for both power and average, built solidly at 6 feet tall and 220 pounds.
That batting average was a new record for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association in its 48 years and the best anywhere in college baseball this year. He had 86 hits in 172 at-bats, and like his stalwart Cardinals hero Matt Carpenter, Failoni specialized in multi-hit games, racking up 27.
He also had 24 doubles, three triples and six home runs in just 46 games, and was named All-American. His team was in its first year of NCAA Division II baseball and managed a not-bad 23-17 record. Failoni was in his first year at Lindenwood after playing two years with Heartland Community College in Bloomington, Ill.
Failoni has high hopes of being drafted by a pro team after this coming season, although he has to overcome not playing at the highest collegiate level.
He already knows a couple of familiar names in this neighborhood – St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny and batting coach John Mabry. The two pros managed Failoni in a Rawlings All-Star game pitting Illinois high school players against Missourians.
He is also pursuing a degree in mass communications and business – very compatible with the sports world. But he hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, either. Steve Tyler, president of Laborers Local 396 in Madison County, says Mike has proven to be a valuable worker in the summer.
“He’s a good kid, from a good union family,” Tyler said. “He shows up when he’s supposed to, he has a skill set, and he works.”
His father, Joe, was an athlete at the old Granite City North High School and now has worked with the Laborers for 33 years. Joe recalls his son starting out with the Little League and says he also has played a lot of hockey.
Mike Failoni’s record season didn’t start out that way. With spring semester games beginning in February at a wintry, windblown tournament in Oklahoma, Failoni started out 0-for-12 until everything snapped into place and the hit parade began.
Said his dad: “His numbers were like something in a pinball game.”