For many of college baseball’s rookies, their first plate appearance comes at the end-of-season team banquet. For Cornell’s starting shortstop, freshman Scott Hardinger, his first look at a Division I heat came last weekend in Cornell’s season-opening series against Bucknell.
While Hardinger took some time adjusting to his first at bats outside of Cornell’s Ramin Room, he came on strong in the final game of the Red’s four-game series going, 2-for-4, driving in two runs and knocking the team’s first double of the season.
“[The double] wasn’t that hard hit,” Hardinger said. “I just got lucky because the ground was frozen and it rolled pretty far.”
While the thing most rookies are looking to grab this spring is a prime seat on the pine next to the space heater, Hardinger – in his first very first inning of his career – scooped up two hard-hit balls to short.
“I was like ‘Holy crap I can’t believe I’m getting a ground ball already,'” Hardinger said. “The first one I bobbled a little bit. I was more surprised to get one that early, even though I should’ve been ready.”
The young shortstop, hailing from Lynden, Wash., has so far handled the defensive demands of the 6-spot well, already turning three double plays and leading the team with 18 assists. His range and quick release from the hole have impressed both coaches and teammates.
“[Hardinger’s] made some plays that kind of opened our eyes in the fall and over the weekend,” said head coach Tom Ford. “He’s made a couple of plays in the hole, where you think ‘Well that’s going to be a pretty close play,’ but he’s got such a quick release that he’s got the guy out by a step.”
Earning the respect of his teammates may have been a harder task. Hardinger’s predecessor Matt Miller ’05 was a senior tri-captain, first-team All Ivy shortstop, and recipient of the 2005 Dr. Albert H. Sharpe Award given to the team’s most valuable player. Miller led last year’s team in batting average (.360), slugging percentage (.525) and on-base percentage (.432). Equally solid in the field – with 25 double plays and a .949 fielding percentage – Miller set the bar for his replacement extremely high.
But Hardinger’s team-first attitude, tireless work ethic and natural ability have made the changing of the guard relatively smooth. It also helps to have senior co-captain Seth Gordon giving you pointers from second base.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We worked really hard in the offseason; spent a lot of time together trying to get situated, turning double plays. He’s a great kid,” Gordon said. “He’s definitely filled Miller’s shoes pretty well so far. It’s tough to do, but he’s done a good job.”
Replacing a team’s MVP with an unproven rookie is never easy, but Ford is pleased with the job Hardinger’s done so far, and confident in the his ability to improve.
“He had some very good at bat’s over the weekend,” Ford said. “He’s going to be a guy that’s going to swing the bat for us as well.”
Nor is Ford too worried about Hardinger’s lack of collegiate baseball experience.
“Obviously there’s a lot to be said about experience, but you know you want the guys who are
going to be able to get the job done,” Ford said. “It’s baseball, so a groundball’s a groundball.”
Archived article by Paul Testa
Sun Assistant Sports Editor