What has since become known as the Brady Rakers Hot Streak began, oddly enough, with an 0-for-3 performance May 2 in the first game of a doubleheader against Mascoutah.
“It was one of those days where he hit three balls hard and didn’t have anything to show for it, so he was frustrated,” Mater Dei coach Travis Gebke said of his junior center fielder. “He was just frustrated more that we lost and secondly, that he didn’t get much to show for three good swings. I said tell you what, just put us on your back and get us this one.
“Boom, he’s taken off since then. A lot of these hard-hit balls are playing nice for him.”
That’s a vast understatement. The Belleville News-Democrat’s Athlete of the Week is 12-for-19 (.631) in his last five games since then with four home runs and 17 RBIs.
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In the second game of the doubleheader against Mascoutah, Rakers broke out by going 4-for-4 with a triple and five RBIs. In back-to-back games against Okawville and Gibault he racked up three home runs and eight RBIs.
“I’ve got that confidence and I’m going up there looking for first-pitch fastball and adjusting from there,” said Rakers, hitting .386 with three doubles, five triples, five homers and 31 RBIs. “Right now it’s been looking like a beach ball. Fun times so far.”
Rakers is tied for second in the St. Louis area with five triples and his 31 RBIs are tied for ninth-best in the region.
“Whenever I go up there I just try to get on base any way I can,” Rakers said. “I just want to help the team win.”
What helped turn things around for him?
“He’d been hitting the ball hard, but he was just missing (this) much,” Gebke said, using his fingers to demonstrate the difference. “We made a little tweak in his swing as far as getting his back hip slot lowered a little bit to kind of loosen him up, he was a little bit tense. We worked on that and it seems like it really helped him.
“He’s just putting together a nice season. We’ll just keep riding it as long as we can.”
Mater Dei (17-8) has won 10 of its last 11 games and is the top seed at the Class 2A Greenville Regional. The Knights reached the state tournament in basketball and volleyball this season and also qualified for the state football playoffs.
However, no Knights’ baseball team has ever won a sectional.
“I’d like to see baseball make their first big run,” Rakers said. “I think this team can do it. We’re really good this year and I think this year could be the year.”
Rakers lives on a farm outside of Aviston and has access to some quality hitting instruction from his uncle, former Mater Dei coach Jason Rakers, his father, Matt Rakers, and former Mater Dei standout and college and minor-league player Jordan Kreke.
Having his own family barn that doubles as a well-equipped hitting cage couldn’t be any better for Rakers, who spends many hours there with a bat in his hands.
“It helps that he’s my neighbor, too,” Rakers said of uncle Jason Rakers, who helps out along with another uncle, Dennis Rakers. “I can just call him up any time I need him to go swing. They’ve really helped me get all the bad habits out. I used to have a leg kick and high elbow in my swing and everything. They’ve fixed it to where it’s all down and just a smooth swing.”
The same barn was once home to Toronto Blue Jays and former Mater Dei catcher Josh Thole, as well as Kreke and numerous other local baseball standouts.
“There’s a lot of history to it, a lot of tradition,” Gebke said. “It’s a good baseball factory to really hone his craft and I know he spends a lot of time there.”
Rakers and his younger brother, Wil Rakers, are both adopted. Brady Rakers was adopted through Christian Social Services (now Caritas) in Belleville after parents Matt and Mary Rakers were unable to have children of their own.
“I’m most proud of how in today’s times, everyone in our community has embraced him and his brother as being just one of our community and family,” Matt Rakers said. We are very blessed.”
Brady Rakers has grown up like most other Clinton County kids, loving sports and the small-town atmosphere that produces good rivalries and lots of good athletes.
“I enjoy being around a bunch of guys that love the game of baseball just like I do,” he said. “It’s a great time, you get to play a fun game and win some games for Mater Dei.”
Two of Rakers’ favorite baseball players are Ken Griffey, Jr., and the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, both center fielders like him. He’s also a big fan of TV’s History Channel and will usually watch anything about World War II, World War I or the Civil War.
Rakers also plays running back and linebacker in football and credits his work in that sport for his strength and improved intensity.
“It’s really helped with my aggressiveness and physicality,” he said. “It’s helped me become a lot more aggressive baserunner and with the strength. All that conditioning helped out a lot.”
Gebke said Rakers throws everything he has into both sports, even though baseball is probably his favorite.
“He’s always been a baseball guy and he’s certainly had a lot of notoriety for his football,” Gebke said. “He’s very knowledgeable about the game of baseball as well. With his stature and his build, he’s got that running back look. Whether it’s football season or baseball season, that’s what he’s committed to.”
Rakers has drawn early recruiting interest from Olney Central College and Division II Drury University.
“He wants to be the guy that people talk about,” Gebke said. “That’s what makes him good, that competitive side. He’ll keep working to get to that level. What gets overshadowed with him is his defense because he’s done a phenomenal job out in center for us as well.
“I don’t think we have near the success we do without his defensive work.”