IOWA CITY - One of the best memories Tyson Blaser will carry with him once his Iowa baseball career ends later this year will have been the chance to take the field at Davenport's Modern Woodmen Park.
The Hawkeyes' senior catcher from Rockridge will get one more chance to add to those memories Wednesday when Iowa plays in the Quad-Cities for the third straight season, facing Western Illinois in a 6:30 p.m. game at the Midwest League stadium.
"When you grow up in the Quad-Cities and you're a baseball guy, that is the one field you dream of playing on,'' Blaser said. "It's the biggest stage there is."
Blaser appreciated that more last season when he finally had a chance to take the field with Iowa when it defeated St. Ambrose 8-0 in a game that came in the midst of a late-season surge by the Hawkeyes which led them to the title game at the Big Ten Championships.
The 2006 Quad-City Times male athlete of the year had missed out on earlier chances to play at the Davenport riverfront stadium. A broken wrist kept him out of action when his 14-year-old youth team played there and an injury which forced him to redshirt in 2009 turned Blaser into a spectator for Iowa's game against Western Illinois.
This season, Blaser is back in full health and providing the leadership that made his return as a fifth-year senior a welcome situation for coach Jack Dahm.
"Tyson is a steadying influence on our team,'' Dahm said. "To have him back is big. He's a cornerstone of what we hope to accomplish this season.''
Iowa (13-20) has won two of three games against the Leathernecks (11-24) heading into Wednesday's game and Blaser has continued to help lead the Hawkeyes.
Blaser is hitting .278 for the season, a number which has increased to .344 and ranks second on the team in Big Ten play. He currently leads Iowa with 11 doubles, is fifth on the team with12 runs batted in and collected the first triple of his college career in a victory over league-leading Michigan State.
Named to the watch list for the 2011 Johnny Bench Award, presented to the college game's top catcher, Blaser is attempting to make the most of his senior season.
"Last year, it took us some time to figure things out. This year, I think our guys all know that they can compete against the top teams in the Big Ten,'' Blaser said. "Playing a three-game weekend series, the race is going to be close and we need to hang in there and do what we did a year ago and peak at the right time.''
Teammates believe Blaser will be among the reasons that can happen for the Hawkeyes.
"Tyson is kind of our security blanket,'' said Iowa pitcher Jarred Hippen, a junior from Rock Falls, Ill., who holds the top spot in the Hawkeyes' weekend starting rotation. "He's been here five years now, he knows what he's doing and beyond being a competitor, he's a calming influence. We're all glad to look up and see him behind the dish because we know we're in good hands.''
It's a place where Blaser knows he is in his comfort zone.
"I've been able to build a good relationship with our pitchers. I've been around here forever, so I know the lay of the land,'' Blaser said. "I think we saw a year ago how the early season prepares us to play the way we need to be playing in late April and May and I'm confident that we'll be there again.''