Coming in as a sophomore from North Central Texas College, Hunter Hargrove was happy to play any position as long as Texas Tech coach Tim Tadlock would just pencil him into the lineup.
A year before, he was a 5-foot-10, 170-pound, scrawny kid that no Division I program seemed to want.
“I was smaller back then,” Hargrove said. “I weighed like 35 pounds less. I knew I was good enough to play at the next level, but … not getting those offers and being told I wasn’t good enough? It hit home with me, and I decided to keep working at it and keep playing.”
He also hit the weight room hard, participating in North Central’s lifting regime each and every day. And he hit the college’s cafeteria even harder.
“That cafeteria was all you can eat. So, I just stayed there and ate and ate and then went to the gym even harder and (the weight) and muscle for some reason stayed with me.”
Four years later, Hargrove tips the scale at 205.
“Ever since I put on that weight it has helped me drive the ball into the gaps and over the fence,” Hargrove said. “It helped my hitting for sure.”
The right man for the 1B job
As a sophomore at Tech, Hargrove filled in various roles for the Red Raiders — besides being the “goofy guy with a big-red beard.”
He started 10 times in center field, four in right, three in left, two as the designated hitter and even two at catcher.
A left fielder at his junior college, North Central, Hargrove was a man without a place. Texas Tech was coming off an appearance in the College World Series and returned much of its lineup, including Tyler Neslony in left field and Eric Gutierrez at first base.
“I never had a set position (in my life it seemed),” Hargrove said. “At North Central, I was the every day left fielder, so when I signed to come to Tech I played some infield, some outfield, I caught here and there and where ever I was needed is where I was. I knew my bat was going to play, I just had to get on the field.”
Hargrove began his junior season at Tech as Eric Gutierrez’s backup. It was a boring job. The former all-Big 12 player never missed a game in his four years at Texas Tech — he played all 177 games. So, Hargrove began taking grounders at third base.
It paid off. Midway through the season, he became the Red Raiders’ everyday third baseman.
“He has played three different positions in three years. He was trying to catch at this point three years ago — he wasn’t bad back there,” Tadlock said. “Last year, he was coming off the bench, giving us a great pinch-hit option, but he took over the third base job in Game 30 or so and hit in the seven-hole and in that lineup he got a lot of opportunities.”
He made the most of it. He started 24 games at third base, hitting .305 with a .457 slugging clip and .379 on-base percentage. He also drove in 28 runs.
“I mean I was Gute’s backup so I took some ground balls at third and ended playing some there,” Hargrove said. “Once Gute left I knew I was going to be moved back over to first (base). It has been a good thing over there. I am comfortable.
“I think being penciled in there everyday and having the same routine everyday (has helped) and seeing all the at-bats has really been reassuring.”
Hargrove has been reassuring Tadlock with how well he has been hitting, too. The senior is hitting .337, has hit four home runs and is second on the team with 36 RBIs.
“Going into this year everyone wanted to know who was going to play first base,” Tadlcok said. “He has been good over there. He isn’t Gute, but don’t get me wrong. Gute is a great first baseman and was the Big 12 player of the year and took this team to Omaha a couple of times.
Hargrove doesn’t have that on his resume — yet.”
Dancing (and bowling) to Omaha
When Hargrove was 12 years old, he lost his best friend — his grandfather, John.
“When I was younger, my grandpa and I were always around the bowling alley. When he died — he was my biggest fan — I stopped bowling, until I picked it back up in high school. Now, a big part of my life in Lubbock is bowling. If I am not playing baseball, that’s what I am doing.”
Hargrove bowls at practice with the Texas Tech team, he carries an average of around 200 and has a high score of 282.
“I have been pretty close to perfection but I haven’t gotten there yet,” Hargrove said.
He loves the game so much he pauses long and hard before answering if he’d rather bat .400 for a season or bowl a perfect game.
“Maybe bat .400. I don’t know how much longer I have to play baseball,” he said. “I have until I am 90 to bowl a 300. Maybe longer —maybe 95.”
But, John, gave Hargrove more than just bowling. He gave him belief in himself on the baseball diamond, too.
“He was always at every one of my games and told me I could do anything I could set my mind too. It was tough; he was my best friend, but I know he is up there watching me.”
So, Hargrove keeps hitting and being a driving force for the Red Raiders — on and off the field.
“I like to go out there and have fun and some of the younger kids need to know they need to have fun, too,” Hargrove said. “They can’t get down on themselves if they don’t have a good at-bat. It’s baseball you are going to have 3 or 4 more in a game. … This team really likes each other and leaves it all o the field and sometimes it is nice to have that comic relief. That is one of the things I like to do.
“Maybe even a little bit of dancing.”
But, the goofy guy with the “big red beard” might just save his best dance for last.
Another trip to Omaha.