Junior Jason Hagerty hadn’t taken a groundball since his sophomore year of high school. He had never played an inning in the outfield. But with eight of last year’s Hurricanes taken in the 2008 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, the 6’3” 220-pounder took any opportunity given to him.
“It’s been different. Any way I can get in the lineup, I’m going to do it,” said Hagerty, who carries three different types of gloves to each game. “I just want to help the team win any way I can. I feel real comfortable now. I didn’t think it would come that easy.”
But what was his initial reaction to the position switch? A laugh. That is, until he realized he didn’t care where he played on the field so long as he was on it.
“It was just constantly getting groundballs when I could,” the sociology major said. “I talked to Yonder [Alonso] last year and he helped me out about the little things to pick up on and so did Coach [Jim] Morris.”
Heading into the weekend series against Virginia Tech, Hagerty was sixth in the ACC with 30 walks and 10th with a .636 slugging percentage. He was second on the team with a .318 batting average to go along with eight homers, 38 runs and 40 RBIs.
“He’s working hard and he’s very focused. He’s a guy you want at the plate right now,” Morris said. “Jason’s very confident in himself right now which you’ve got to be to play this game.”
Sophomore Yasmani Grandal took over the catching duties towards the end of last season and Hagerty saw less playing time.
“When you have two guys who are good at one thing and they get together, it makes us even better,” Grandal said. “He’s come up big. He’s definitely turned it around and hopefully he keeps it up. He’s definitely carrying the team now.”
Hagerty believes that the competition helps both of their games and that his own maturation since freshman year has led to his breakout season.
“I didn’t really have the right attitude. I thought I knew it all, basically. Learning from the older guys and listening has really helped me grow up in that sense,” Hagerty said. “The younger guys think they know what’s going on, and so did I when I was a freshman, but you really only can learn from the older guys because they’ve been there.”
The St. Louis, Mo., native admits that he still needs to adjust to the different arm angle used at first and practice footwork on double plays. For the first time at UM, though, he’s gotten consistent at-bats and seen pitches.
“He was pressing earlier in the season. He was trying to fill the role of Yonder and Dennis [Raben] and trying to be the power guy and carry this team,” junior All-American closer Kyle Bellamy said. “Now he’s taking a deep breath, just going up there with a different approach and he’s really hitting the ball.”
Much like Hagerty, this year’s team has been a surprise with a 29-14 record. On March 25, before going on a tough stretch of four consecutive weekend series against ranked opponents, the Hurricanes were 19-5 and No. 2 in the nation.
“Everybody seemed to have doubted us at the beginning of the year. I think we’ve proven a lot of people wrong,” Hagerty said.
Morris sees Hagerty playing either outfield or catcher in the majors sometime in the future.
“I would say the last third of the season, he’s MVP. He’s really swung the bat well and he’s done a great job for us at first base,” Morris said. “He’s one of the best athletes on the team. He’s contributed in many ways and I feel like he’s one of our leaders.”