As a fifth-year student, Hart only needs a few credits to graduate, and elected to take them in the spring. This allows him to play one more season with the Minutemen. To do this, Hart had to take the fall semester off.
Staying in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Hart did not allow being away from Amherst to deter his preparation for the coming season. While working with a hitting coach, Hart worked out with UMass baseball alum, Kyle Adie. Adie graduated from UMass in 2015 and is currently playing in California in the Independent League.
NCAA rules prevented Hart from having much communication with UMass coaches including Stone, but, being a senior, Hart was pretty familiar with the offseason routine.
In addition to the typical baseball training, Hart made it a point to bulk up—putting on approximately 20 pounds over the offseason. His official weight is listed at 200, which is a little lower than it was at the beginning of the semester. Everyday practices have caused Hart to shed a few pounds over the course of the last few weeks.
“As a number 3 hitter, we’re always going for average, but we also need that power number, especially when we don’t score as many runs as we did last year,” Hart said. “A couple of extra doubles and a couple of extra base hits may help out.”
Losing catcher and captain John Jennings to graduation means losing nine home runs and 32 RBIs, the Minutemen’s primary source of production last season. This served as an incentive for Hart to put on some weight and hopefully improve his power numbers.
While Stone agrees the additional muscle will improve Hart’s power, he noted Hart is more of a line drive hitter and to ask someone to hit home runs at the collegiate level is unrealistic.
“He’s a run producer. I think he’s a clutch guy, an RBI guy, so we see him as somebody who is going to hit third in the lineup and hopefully drive in a lot of runs,” Stone said.
With Earl Lorden drenched in water, if not completely covered in snow, the Minutemen are forced to take swings within the batting cages inside Boyden Gymnasium. Even in the condensed space, Hart’s offseason work has shown.
“The balls he’s hitting in batting practice are just jumping off his bat a little bit more than last year,” Morris said.
While the increased power is noticeable, Stone says the increased quality of his reps is the biggest difference from last year.
Undoubtedly, many of Hart’s improvements can be credited to his time in the Futures League this past summer.
The Futures League consists of nine teams located throughout New England and gives college ball players a chance to play baseball against collegiate talent while maintaining a relaxed environment.
Hart’s numbers in his first season in the league speak for themselves. Moreover, what he learned about leadership and the mental aspect of the game were just as valuable.
As Yogi Berra famously put it, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.”
Hart is realizing that now more than ever.
“For me, I didn’t have the fall. I didn’t see live pitching so I’m kind of slow getting back into the timing and everything but I know once we get on that field, I’m more prepared mentally which is a huge part of the game,” Hart said. “I mean there is only so much you can do preparing physically. [The mental aspect] is a huge part and I’ve been putting that in my game this year.”