By Bob Behre
Anyone who has played baseball knows how important it is for a team to have that guy who can change a game with his legs.
Devin Hack, one of the Diamond Jack program’s longest tenured players, is that kind of player and so much more.
The Seton Hall University bound center fielder joined the Diamond Jacks as a 10 year-old and the soon-to-be 17 year old just completed the fall season with the Diamond Jacks Super 17 Underclass team. A junior at Somerville High, Hack has already put the college recruitment process behind him but it’s hard to believe he still has nearly two years before he reports to the Pirates’ South Orange, N.J. campus.
The first thing that would strike any observer about Hack is his speed and overt athleticism; attributes that will make any coach smile.
Hack exhibited his outstanding all around play during the Super 17 Underclass squad’s championship run in the Fall Brawl tournament last weekend at Diamond Nation. Hack went 2-for-4 in the championship game with a double and scored two runs. He played his usual silky center field before taking the mound in relief. The lefthander then pitched 3.1 scoreless innings to pick up with victory in the Super 17 Underclass team’s 8-6 victory over Team Connecticut Baseball.
“Devin was always a leadoff hitter for me,” said longtime Diamond Jacks coach Travis Anderson, who coached Hack at both the 14U and 15U level. “His game really made a big jump from 14-to-15 years old and that’s a credit to his hard work.”
All Hack’s hard work and dedication would deliver a Division 1 scholarship to Seton Hall.
One evening in June, Diamond Jack recruiting coordinator Steve DiTrolio phoned Hack. “Coach Ditro told me to call coach Pappas,” said Hack, referring to Seton Hall assistant coach Mark Pappas. “I called him and he expressed interest in me. He asked me to come to campus for an visit.”
Seton Hall already had a bit of a personal tug at Hack’s heart. His maternal grandfather, Ron Butkiewicz, was a lefty-hitting first baseman for the 1964 Seton Hall University squad that reached the College World Series.
“I was offered at the end of the visit,” said Hack. “When I got home, I called coach Pappas and committed.”
Hack then had a very important phone call to make to his grandfather.
“That phone call was pretty exciting,” said Hack. “He was pretty proud and happy that I was following in his footsteps.” Hack had narrowed his college choice to teams in the northeast after also considering Elon University in North Carolina.
“I wanted to stay in the northeast and play locally so my family could come watch me play,” said Hack. “Seton Hall offered a great scholarship. I loved the facility, the coaches were great and I felt a strong sense of family, a strong sense of tradition.”
Seton Hall will be gaining a player with a wealth of experience on the diamond and one with outstanding baseball instincts.
“I realize what type of player I am,” said Hack. “I’m not going to be jacking home runs. I had to look in the mirror and say, my game is lined drives, speed, putting pressure on the defense, beating out grounders, stealing bases and playing solid defense.”
That’s a pretty accurate self-scout by Hack and revealing about the selfless approach Seton Hall expects from its players.
“Devin is aggressive and always has good sense about him,” said Anderson. “He gets great reads on the bases and has shown the ability to bunt in any count.”
The 5-11, 165-pound Hack can look to a pair of speedy, lefty-hitting outfielders to emulate. The past two Seton Hall center fielders, Derek Jenkins and Zack Granite, have had great success at the professional level. Jenkins just concluded his college career in 2016 when he led the nation in stolen bases. In his second summer of pro ball, he bolted all the way up to Double-A in the L.A. Angels’ chain. Granite got the call to the major leagues this season with the Minnesota Twins. He, in fact, played against the Yankees in the American League Wild Card game.
“It’s amazing. Seton Hall’s past two center fielders are speedy, lefty hitters,” said Hack, “and both are playing in professional organizations.”
Jenkins, a former Super 17 player and a North Hunterdon High grad, coached the Diamond Jacks Super 17 Underclass team this fall, providing Hack a highly valuable and readily available source for insights on Seton Hall University.
“I just came back from an ankle injury last week,” said Hack, “So it was the first time I saw Derek since I committed. He said he was willing to help out with any questions because he went through the process. It’s nice to have someone to talk to who has played at the next level.”
Anderson said, “It’s great having Derek coaching at Diamond Nation for a guy like Devin, who is a similar player.”
Though a little less than two years from his first college class, Hack hasn’t left a stone unturned in regard to considering his college academic options.
“I’ve given it some thought,” he said. “I’ve always been good in the sciences. So I did some research. And right now I think I want to go get into physical therapy.”
Now in his seventh season with the Diamond Jacks program, Hack has received instruction from just about all of the coaches on staff at the Flemington, N.J. facility.
“I remember every Diamond Jacks coach from 10U and up,” said Hack. “They all did a great job preparing us and teaching us the right way. The past two years have been real big. The exposure I received in trips to Fort Meyers, Florida and Lake Point, Georgia really helped. We played against great competition and lots of scouts saw us play.”
One coach has stood out for Hack. “It was Travis Anderson,” he said. “Not only is he a great baseball coach, but he is also a role model. He taught us how to play the game the right way, with respect and class.”
With fall season behind him and winter approaching, Hack still has baseball on his mind.
“I will definitely be working on my swing throughout the off-season,” he said. “It’s tough to put the bat down for a few months and feel the same. Your swing is something you have to critique constantly and work on all year. It’s a full time job.”
That is music to the ears of his high school coach, Chris Banos. “Devin is very coachable,” said Banos. “He worked very hard the past two years to get where he is today.”