The Bears’ transfer third baseman played organized baseball since the age of four.
“When I was in diapers, I’d be hitting any ball I could off of a tee,” sophomore Joey Polak said.
Baseball is in Joey’s blood. His father, Rich Polak, played ball at the University of Central Florida for four years before being drafted by the New York Yankees in 1989, where he played in the farm system for six years.
Joey said he had the best time playing baseball in high school. He said he was fortunate enough to play varsity all four years and was blessed with a great coaching staff and teammates.
“My favorite memory is when we won the regional championship my junior year because we beat the team who beat us the previous year,” Joey said.
The Quincy, Illinois, product was ranked fifth in the state of Illinois for third basemen in his graduating class and 10th-best overall recruit, according to Perfect Game.
Several Division I schools, including Mizzou, Louisville and South Carolina, looked at Joey. He chose to commit early to the University of South Carolina.
Joey said he loved it there — from the coaches, to the players, to the environment. He said a big factor weighing in South Carolina’s favor was their sports administration program, which is one of the best in the country, according to Joey.
He decided to redshirt his first year as a Gamecock, due to a knee injury in the fall of 2016, where he had to have surgery to clean up his knee.
After one year on the roster, Joey decided to change things up by transferring to Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri.
Joey’s high school coach knew Jefferson’s head coach at the time, Pat Evers, and everything fell into place from there. Many of Joey’s teammates from summer baseball were playing at Jeff Co, so Joey felt it was the right decision for him. He didn’t want to have to sit another year.
“I knew a bunch of people there, and it worked out that I would get to play right away,” Joey said.
But, Joey said it was not an easy decision for him to make.
“To leave a beautiful environment for a junior college in the middle of nowhere Missouri, it’s hard,” Joey said. “It ended up being a really good decision for me, so I don’t regret it at all.”
While it might have been a tough choice, Joey had an outstanding one-and-done season as a Viking.
After slugging 32 home runs and driving home 107 runners, Joey helped lead the Vikings to a regional title in 2018 behind his .459 batting average.
Following the 2018 season, Joey was named the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year.
Joey’s outstanding junior college debut season did not get past the eyes of both Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin and assistant coach Matt Lawson.
Guttin said he and Lawson went to watch Joey in back-to-back games and were impressed with him. Guttin was looking to replace former Bears third baseman Matt Brown and said he thought Joey could be the guy to come in and help out.
Joey said it did not take much convincing to come to Missouri State. He said he knew the culture and expectations, and he wanted to be a part of it.
“Once I took my visit here, I knew this is where I wanted to be,” Joey said.
The sophomore has started 42 of 43 games this season and is batting .219 behind 25 RBIs in his first year as a Bear.
Joey’s seven home runs this spring puts him in second among Missouri State players and seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Guttin said Joey has shown a lot of great effort this season, but like his teammates, has not been very consistent at the plate as of late. Guttin said he’s hoping Joey will get hot down the stretch.
Joey said going from junior college ball to Division I ball is not all that different. He said he faced several great arms at the junior college level — the big difference for him is his maturity at the plate.
“I’ve had to make a lot of adjustments, and I still am making those adjustments,” Joey said.
The beginning of April was a red-hot time for Joey. From April 2-12, he clubbed a 7-game hitting streak and from April 2-6 he collected four consecutive multi-hit games.
On April 5 at Southern Illinois, Joey became the ninth Bear in program history to record three home runs in a single game.
The following week, Joey was named the Missouri Valley Player of Week and one of Collegiate Baseball’s National Players of Week.
The national honor is the first for a Bear since Jake Burger in 2017.
As for the atmosphere at Missouri State, Joey said he has really enjoyed this season so far and there’s nothing he’d take back.
Joey played summer baseball with Ben Whetstone, Drew Millas and Collin Clayton before they became his teammates, and he said it’s nice when friendly paths cross again.
Clayton said he has been friends with Joey since their sophomore year of high school when they played summer ball for the St. Louis Pirates, though, ironically, they used to play each other in middle school.
“When I saw Joey had committed here, I was so excited,” Clayton said. “I knew he was going to be my roommate.”
Clayton said Joey is his sounding board, the person he can talk through his struggles with.
“He is the dad off the field,’’ Clayton said. “He manages me and my other roommate, keeping us in line and I couldn’t thank him enough for that. He’s great.”
Guttin sees that side of Joey, as well.
“He’s a really good teammate, well-liked, takes care of business on campus and is such a pleasure to be around,” Guttin said.
Joey was very honest and said he finds it hard sometimes to juggle school with being a Division I athlete.
He said his professors are very helpful and there is an open line of communication between him and his professors. Joey said he met with a professor directly before the Dallas Baptist game on May 2. He said it’s all about balance.
From the atmosphere on campus to the vibe on the field, Joey said he has loved every moment of being a Bear.
“From day one, there’s been a precedent here that we’re determined to be the best team we can be,” Joey said. “There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”