Gotta Have Hart

This season, Fredonia baseball games, almost without exception, would start out pretty much the exact same way – game after game after game; and it went a little something like this:

Nick Hart, leading off, digs in at the plate. Hart, blessed with a keen eye and a quick bat, is equally satisfied with a walk or a hit. Hart, armed with innate speed, swipes second. Hart, with a little help from the talented hitters behind him, is soon rounding third and, just a few moments later, crossing home.

Fredonia takes the early lead; in due course, Fredonia wins.

“The way he battled (at the plate) was just phenomenal,” Fredonia coach Vince Gullo said. “He started off virtually every game by getting on base, and more often than not we’d punch him in and go up a run in the first inning.

“He was the reason we got off to such a good start. He’d single, and with his amazing baserunning instincts he would soon end up at second.”

The old saying in baseball is that a walk is as good as a hit. For Nick Hart, it seems, one could say that a walk was as good as a double – or, even better, a run.

Just take a look at the stats.

The senior, who will be continuing his playing career at SUNY Cortland next spring (which Gullo notes is one of the better programs in the state), stole a team-high 26 bases. He scored a school-record 47 times, and scored a hefty average of two per game during league play. He drew 22 walks, hit a team-leading .435 (of his 40 hits, eight were doubles and two were triples) and reached base safely in more than 55 percent of his at-bats.

What’s more, he struck out only six times in 92 at-bats.

“Nick is so passionate about his ball,” Gullo said. “He takes great pride in it. He was always taking extra hitting, always the last guy to leave practice. He wanted to be perfect, and that’s really hard in this sport, but he was pretty close.”

So close, in fact, that sportswriters and coaches from around the state took note. Not only was he named an All-Western New York first teamer and the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 Player of the Year, but he was also selected by the New York State Sportswriters Association as the Class B Player of the Year – just the second Fredonia ballplayer, after Abe Rak managed the feat in 2006, to earn the award during Gullo’s tenure at Fredonia.

“Nick was so motivated all season,” Gullo told the Dunkirk Observer in June. “He had one goal in mind and that was to win a state championship. This has to be very rewarding for him after leading our team to a state title. … He just had an incredible year.”

And, as one would expect, the centerfielder led the Hillbillies to that state title – their second since 2006 – in typical fashion.

“He scored three runs (of nine) in the state semifinal game and in the finals (a 7-0 win over Section 3’s Clinton) he walked and scored the first run of the game, as usual,” Gullo said with a laugh. “Against Wayland-Cohocton (in the Far West Regional) he hit a single, stole second and scored the first run in a 2-0 victory. Against Tonawanda (in the Section 6 Class B crossover final) he walked, stole and scored. In five of our seven playoff games, Nick reached safely in his first at-bat and scored the game’s first run.

“Are you getting the picture?”

Quite clearly, and for a finishing touch, Hart can add Post-Journal Player of the Year to the masterpiece.