PEORIA (HOI) -- March 3, 2020 -- a day that rocked the Bradley and Princeville communities. The day Mitch Janssen, a Bradley pitcher and Princeville alum, died in a plane crash.
"It was tough, very tough. 40 guys crying in a room together was something I had never seen. It was tough, it was very tough," said Dan Bolt, Bradley senior outfielder.
Janssen was more than a great baseball player and pilot, as his teammates and coaches described, he was an even better person.
"Just the definition of a selfless guy, making sure everybody around him is enjoying themselves, reminding everybody there's more to life than just baseball and that was Mitch's true character was life on and off the field. Ultimate competitor, but also put things in perspective," said Brendan Dougherty, Bradley senior third baseman.
"Mitch was a guy who never failed to smile, never failed to put a smile on someone else's face and he always wanted everyone else smiling. That was the main thing that stuck out to me, he'd go to any extent to make sure everyone around was smiling and having a good time and felt incorporated," continued Bolt.
This weekend the team was able to honor Janssen for the first time on the field, while hosting Southern Illinois in a four-game series. The Braves have been wearing patches on their hats, and for the weekend series they incorporated baseballs donning a tribute logo to Janssen.
"Still to this day it kind of hurts. I mean you grow up and you try to coach these kids and they become one of yours, they become one of the family and it's like losing one of your own. I know with the guys it will be an emotional weekend for them, but we'll try to do the best we can because he's someone we shouldn't forget," said Elvis Dominguez, Bradley Head Coach.
With emotions flowing on the field, the Janssen family watched the team their son and brother gave so much to.
"It will for sure be an emotional weekend, but knowing Mitch as a good friend of mine, a good friend of the rest of the guys, we know he wouldn't want us to do anything else other than play our hearts out," said Bolt.
"To be able to see them in the stands, spend a little time with them, it's going to be an emotional weekend. To have them here, it makes you play with a little more fire. I think it's going to light a fire in us to play in front of them and play for Mitch," continued Dougherty.
Coach Dominguez says he wants to make this an annual tribute to the man who meant so much to program.
On Sunday, following their series finale with Southern Illinois, the team will be shaving their heads to raise money for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, a charity Janssen was a proud supporter of. Dominguez says they've raised about $20,000 this year for the foundation.