♬ Back home again … in Indiana ♬
Although this is a song used before the Indianapolis 500, former Hoosier pitcher Kyle Hart very much felt it on Friday night.
Appearing back in the state where he played college baseball for the first time since donning the Cream and Crimson, the left handed pitcher was dominant in a 4-2 win over the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field.
After a rough start in the first inning, allowing three hits and two runs, Hart proceeded to completely shut down the Indians lineup the last six innings he pitched. He allowed just two hits and faced the minimum number of batters possible after the rough opening frame. His final line was seven innings, five hits, two runs, and five strikeouts.
Hart said he has always been a slow starter, even as a Hoosier, before settling in.
“I felt like coming out in the first inning, even going back to the college days, I’ve had some trouble coming out of the gate,” Hart said. “As we went I made some adjustments mechanically and started to get the ball down in the zone and the rest took care of itself.”
Hart also said pitching close to his hometown of Cincinnati was special and the first time people close to him got to see him throw.
“Your family, your friends are all here,” he said. “In Pawtucket everything’s just so far up there that a lot of your family and friends have never seen me pitch before. For them to get down here and support me was awesome.”
For Hart to get to where he is today, it all started back as a prospective Hoosier recruit prior to 2012. Back then his good friend and current Cubs star Kyle Schwarber had already committed to Indiana. Schwarber used this opportunity to push his companion to come with him.
“I ended up at IU because of Schwarber,” he said. “He had a lot to do with encouraging me to not only take a look at IU but seriously consider it. I was pretty much getting badgered by Schwarber every night ‘when are you gonna commit’. I just woke up one morning at a summer ball tournament and called (former Hoosier Coach) Tracy (Smith) and said I’m gonna play for you.”
This turned out to work out for Schwarber, Hart, and the rest of the Hoosiers as their time at IU raised the program to new heights. Both came to IU in 2012 where Smith was just turning around decades of mediocrity. This class has since cemented the Cream and Crimson as a regular postseason team, making the NCAA tournament six times in seven years since 2013, after just two prior appearances in school history.
Hart was a big part of this as a regular weekend starter from the get go in 2012. During that season he posted a 3.21 ERA which was the best among starters and third best on the team. This would help IU to a second place Big Ten finish and the Conference tourney final against Purdue where the Hoosiers would lose a close game to end the season.
This would lead to the breakthrough in 2013 and what to this day remains the best team in IU history with the opening of a brand new Bart Kaufman field.
Hart said while he realized immediately how much better the new stadium was from the Old Sembower Field, he did not comprehend just yet what the team was becoming.
“I remember practicing on Bart Kaufman when it was still being built and I was like ‘man this place is really nice’,” he said. “For us it was something that once I left IU, that’s when I truly realized what we had transitioned into.”
Playing in the new park, IU amassed a program record 49 wins, a Big Ten regular season and tournament title, as well as the school’s first ever appearance in the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska after hosting the school’s first ever NCAA Regional.
This dominant team included a pitching staff led by IU greats Aaron Slegers, Joey Denato, and Hart himself who produced ERA’s of 2.04, 2.52 and 3.01 respectively. This led to a team ERA of just 2.64.
However, Hart was quick to credit the offense which was led by Schwarber and produced a team batting average of .301.
“Try not to give up seven or eight runs and you’re probably going to win the game,” he said. “We were just so good offensively you just had to keep the other team at bay.”
While IU did not return to Omaha, the rest of Hart’s career saw a lot of success. While he was out injured most of 2014, IU still produced another Big Ten regular season and tournament title and a second straight NCAA Regional at home.
Hart would return from injury midway through 2015 and lead the staff with a 1.21 ERA. This led IU to yet another NCAA Regional appearance where he pitched a dominant game in the opener in a 7-1 win over Radford. His senior year, he pitched full time again and was part of yet another high powered staff, where this time he anchored the Friday night role with a 3.29 ERA leading the team to a third place finish in the Big Ten.
After completing his eligibility in 2016, Hart was selected in the 19th round by the Boston Red Sox. Since that time, he has worked his way through Boston’s minor league teams, beginning in rookie ball with the GLC Red Sox. As of now he is at Triple A Pawtucket one step before the Major Leagues. Overall in his minor League career, he has a solid 2.93 ERA as he has moved up through the farm system.
Hart said he will keep playing his hardest where he is, but thinks he has the talent to play on the Red Sox once he is taught more in Triple A.
“I am just going to keep doing my best here,” he said. “Whether I’ll have an opportunity to play in the Big Leagues I don’t know. I really hope so. I think that I have the ability to become a big league pitcher but I feel like I still have a lot to learn.”