Michael Hartnagel swings for the ball at home plate. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis.
JOSHUA DOERING | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether it is watching the St. Louis Cardinals on television, playing wiffle ball in the backyard with his family or on the diamond as the shortstop of Butler’s baseball team, baseball has always been a major part of redshirt junior Michael Hartnagel’s life.
“I think he came out throwing a baseball,” Ralph Hartnagel, Michael’s dad who played college baseball at Ball State University, said. “He was always around it.”
Hartnagel began his college baseball career at DePauw University, following his graduation from Brownsburg High School. He played there for one season, hitting .337 and driving in 23 runs. After one season at DePauw, Hartnagel decided to transfer, eventually picking Butler.
“My freshman year was a great experience at DePauw,” Hartnagel said. “But, I realized that I wanted to give more to baseball and focus and play at a better level.”
The decision to transfer meant that Hartnagel had to sit out a season before getting to play for Butler. Right before his redshirt season started, Hartnagel suffered a concussion while playing basketball with Tyler Houston, his childhood friend and fellow junior teammate.
“I always claim that I was going past him and he was just going the wrong way but he says I ran right into him,” Houston said.
The injury prevented Hartnagel from participating in practice or workouts with the team, which made it more difficult to fit in with the team. Hartnagel said the season off taught him not to take anything for granted.
“It was great that I had the teammates that I did and the family to support me,” Hartnagel said. “It’s always tough when you have to sit out a sport that you love.”
— Butler Baseball (@ButlerUBaseball) April 4, 2017
Last season Hartnagel was eligible to suit up for the Bulldogs. He started 53 of 54 games and led the team with a .319 batting average. His 20 game hitting streak was only four games short of the school record.
“I see it on the field,” Ralph said. “He takes charge. A lot of that came with confidence and I think Butler has provided those opportunities for him to grow and become more confident and more mature.”
In 2017, Hartnagel has taken his game to another level. Through 27 games, all of which he has started, Hartnagel is batting .414 with 10 doubles, scoring 24 runs. He has 12 multi-hit games this year, including a 5-5 outing against Furman University on March 8.
“I’m just going up there trying to embrace it all and soak it all in,” Hartnagel said. “It’s hard because you fail a lot in baseball. I would get frustrated a lot but this year it’s more about just relaxing and soaking it in.”
At 5-foot-9-inches, Hartnagel embraces being overlooked and plays with a chip on his shoulder as a result. While he may not have the power a traditional player batting fourth in the lineup does, Hartnagel has been a key piece for Butler both offensively and defensively.
“Even though I’ve been playing with him for five, six years and I’ve known him since he was eight or nine, he still finds a way to do something that impresses me almost every game,” Houston said. “He’s probably still the best defensive player I’ve ever played with. He knows it. Everybody on the field knows it.”
Scheduled to graduate in May, Hartnagel still has a year of eligibility remaining and is planning to return to Butler next year to play another year for the baseball team and pursue a Master’s Degree in marketing.
“I want to play baseball as long as I can,” Hartnagel said. “I’m not ready to give it up quite yet.”
Hartnagel and the rest of the Bulldogs will open up Big East conference play against Seton Hall University on April 7.
— Mike Freeman (@MichaelSFreeman) March 9, 2017