Grad student Hack set for encore to dynamic 2023 season at “The Hall”

By Bob Behre | February 2, 2024

Devin Hack, facing far right, and his Seton Hall teammates celebrated 31 victories in 2023.

Devin Hack will be looking to pick right up where he left off last spring when he earned First Team All-Big East honors for his work at the plate and in center field for Seton Hall University.

He’ll do so as he works toward a Master’s Degree in Psychological Studies, having concluded his undergrad studies last spring in Behavioral Science.

Hack, a longtime Diamond Jack out of Diamond Nation in Flemington, had a terrific redshirt junior season in which he dominated Big East competition, started every one of the Pirates’ 55 games and was error-free in center field. He, remarkably, has committed just a single error through four seasons at Seton Hall University.

We saw similar play from Hack at the youth level at Diamond Nation and more of the same at Somerville High School. And now Hack enters what should be an exciting final season at Seton Hall, a team picked for third in the Big East coaches’ preseason coaches poll.

Hack, meanwhile, will have a legitimate shot at eclipsing the coveted career 200-hit plateau after a highly productive 2023 season in which he rapped out 62 hits and batted .313 overall for a 31-24 Seton Hall club.

“Honestly, I had a very difficult start to the season last year,” said Hack. “I had a great fall but I was only hitting .130 after the first month and a half of the season. It was upsetting but I also knew I was working hard and doing everything I needed to do to succeed.”

Watching himself on film, Hack noticed a minor flaw in his swing. “I made a small mechanical tweak that had to do with the rhythm of my hands,” he said.

That tweak quickly produced dividends as Hack went 5-for-14 as Seton Hall won two of three games at East Tennessee State the first weekend of April. The Pirates returned home to embark on their Big East schedule and Hack quickly flipped the script on his season.

That number is likely to rise this season to 200 for Seton Hall University’s Devin Hack.

Dropped from the top of the order to the sixth spot of the Seton Hall lineup, Hack would maintain that leadoff man pedigree, roaring through the league portion of the Pirates’ schedule with a .439 batting average as he reached base at an alarming .495 pace.

“It’s a testament to Devin, his perseverance and his confidence in himself,” said Seton Hall head coach Rob Sheppard. “Even when he struggled early on, we never wavered on him. He was still putting pressure on defenses. His production at that point wasn’t necessarily driven by his batting average. He handles the bat well, moves runners over, bunts for a hit, steals bases. That’s someone you want in your lineup.”

Additionally, Hack continued to ably steer the ship in the Pirates’ outfield, while exhibiting his impressive all-around defensive prowess.

“Devin’s instincts as an outfielder are second to none,” says Sheppard. “He has good routes, runs the ball down, knows how to pace himself, and has great pre-pitch movements. He also helps our corner guys position themselves. He’s a coach on the field. He’s a guy who takes a lot of pride in his defense. I think the value he provided us on defense also helped to carry him through those early struggles he was having at the plate.”

The lefty-hitting Hack was named Big East Player of the Week twice in May. He and teammates Max Viera and Ryan Reich have been named to the 2024 Preseason All-Big East Team by the league’s coaches. Viera is the Pirates’ senior shortstop and Reich is a sophomore relief pitcher.

Devin Hack batted .439 and posted a .495 on-base percentage in Big East play last year.

Hack’s well-rounded approach at the plate was reflected in the 28 walks he drew – to just 25 strikeouts – as he reached base at a .409 clip while stealing 25 bases on the season.

“I just stuck with my routine when I was struggling,” said Hack. “My coaches believed in me and kept sending me out there. I think experience is a huge factor. Baseball is definitely a game you get better at the longer you play. You develop a routine that’s specific to you. You have to learn to overcome struggles. You learn a lot during your career. I’m lucky to have a fifth year to continue to get better.”

Hack’s freshman year was the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign when Seton Hall’s season came crashing down with the rest of NCAA spring sports on March 11. Hack, however, did make an immediate imprint on that lost season when he made a diving catch in center field in a season-opening 4-3 loss to No. 20 Wake Forest. While the season ended abruptly after 14 games for Seton Hall, the NCAA would grant all players an extra year of eligibility.

“I knew right away I wanted to use that fifth year,” said Hack. “The longer I played here the more ingrained in me the program became. Seton Hall is part of me now. College sports have become tainted because of all of the transferring. There’s no true loyalty. Seton Hall recruited me and gave me an opportunity to play. My coaches believed in me. I want to give back for what they’ve given to me.”

Sheppard’s 2024 roster, in fact, includes four players beginning their fifth year in the program.

“We’re blessed to have those players with us,” said Sheppard “and having a guy like Devin, who is really a good leader. The guys respect him. He knows what he needs to do to be successful and he demands that from his teammates.”

Devin Hack scoring a run for Seton Hall became commonplace the past four seasons.

The Pirates’ 31 wins last season was their highest win total since 2016. Picked for fifth in the 2023 Big East standings and assumed to be on the outside lookin in at the conference tournament draw, Seton Hall, instead, would qualify as a three seed for the Big East Tournament. The Pirates, however, were eliminated in consecutive close losses to Xavier and Georgetown, a disappointment that drives the 2024 team.

The Seton Hall coaching staff, steered by Sheppard since 2004, was named Big East Coaching Staff of the Year last spring. A nice feather on the cap of Sheppard, who had reconfigured that staff after the 2022 season. Sheppard brought in fellow Pirate alums Giuseppe Papaccio (2013) and Ryan Ramiz (2018), pitching coach Jimmy Moran and Mike Casaleggio, to handle director of baseball operations duties . And the result speaks for itself.

“Coach Shep has done so much for me as a player,” says Hack. “I wasn’t the biggest guy coming in. I was skinny. I gave everything I had. That’s how I worked my way into the lineup (as a freshman). I had speed, got on base, sacrificed, stole bases. I think he appreciated the effort I gave on the field. The Seton Hall motto is ‘Don’t Lose Your Hustle.’ When I heard that I was like, ‘Hey, that’s how I play.'”

Playing a Division 1 sport is a demanding proposition, the challenge of which few incoming freshmen can quantify, until perhaps that first big exam or lengthy paper he or she has to produce. Tying the academic end neatly to a demanding athletic schedule is a sort of magic trick borne mostly of hard work and determination.

Hack encountered a big hurdle his sophomore year when he realized he was in a major that was simply not clicking for him and he was faced with making a significant, life-changing decision about his future.

“I came in as a bio major and really tried my hardest, but it wasn’t for me,” said Hack, who had initially seen himself in the physical therapy field. “I found I was more suited for the psychology field. My whole goal was to be able to help people one-on-one, that’s why I wanted to be a physical therapist.” The psychology field offers Hack that same rewarding opportunity to help others, one-on-one.

The sight of Devin Hack on the base paths is not a comforting one for Seton Hall’s opponents.

“It was spring semester sophomore year. I was a little apprehensive about changing majors but my parents were supportive. I found psychology to be more interesting to me. It went very well from there. I got better grades and was able to graduate on time with a behavioral science major.”

Once Hack concludes his two-year Masters program next spring, he intends to continue onto a three-year Doctorate program and become a practicing psychologist.

Talking at length with Hack, you quickly realize he has chosen the correct endeavor. A clip from his LinkedIn profile sheds a bit of light on his thought processes.

“Baseball is a game of failure,” he says. “Over the course of my career, I have dedicated tens of thousands of hours to the game. It will knock you down, challenge you beyond belief, force you to persevere through intense struggle, and perform even when things are uncomfortable. The longer I play the game, the more I realize that baseball is a larger metaphor for life.”

A recent NCAA study revealed that of the more than 482,000 high school baseball players in the country, just 2.2% of them make it to a Division 1 baseball roster. So, from that perspective, Hack and his teammates are in a pretty exclusive club. The amount of players who go on to play professional ball is an infinitesimal number when compared to that original 482K number. Certainly the day-to-day challenges Division 1 ball players encounter are substantial.

Hack has shown the correct amount of fortitude and perspective to turn his struggles and those challenges into career and personal gain.

“Devin is such a mature and well thought out young man” says Sheppard. “He knows what he wants to do and works hard at getting it done.”

Before Hack gets his intended career underway, he and his  teammates have a promising season ahead, one that begins the weekend of Feb. 16-18 with games against Iowa, Michigan State and Merrimack in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Preparations are underway in earnest on the Seton Hall campus in South Orange.

Hack can expect to find himself at the top of the Pirates batting order come Feb. 16.

“One thing Devin has always done is find a way to score runs,” said Sheppard. “We saw that at Somerville High and with the Diamond Jacks. He was always on base by a hit, a bunt, a walk, hit by pitch, whatever. And he has always scored runs. He’s always that threat.”

Hack, however, is not the same player he was physically in 2020.

“When I arrived at Seton Hall, I was a skinny kid with good speed but not a lot of strength,” he says. “I really hadn’t developed a great swing. Athleticism got me on the field. Years of lifting weights and a productive routine enabled me to develop strength. And I believe experience has become a significant factor in my game.”

No, Hack isn’t the same youngster who started opening day freshman year against an imposing ACC opponent. Whatever trepidation that may have existed at that point is long gone. Replacing it is a mature countenance, a man confident in his abilities, feeding off his experiences and becoming quite a handful for which his opponents must prepare. Isolated failures only seem to drive him forward.

“When you fail you should learn from it and it should make you better,” says Hack. “The more you challenge yourself the better you’ll respond when it’s time to compete.”

Game on in South Orange.

Seton Hall boasted the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year in 2023.

Did you know?: Hack’s career numbers are impressive, particularly in that he has 149 hits the past three seasons. He boasts a career batting average of .290, to go with 158 hits in 158 games, has scored 88 runs, ripped 25 doubles, 7 triples and a HR and driven in 61 runs. His 84 walks certainly compare favorably to his 94 strikeouts. He’s been hit by 11 pitches.

… Papaccio, a terrific shortstop at both Nutley High and Seton Hall University, earned All-American honors and was New Jersey Collegiate Player of the Year in 2013. He concluded his college career with 237 hits, fourth all-time at Seton Hall.

… Like Hack and Papaccio, Sheppard played shortstop at Seton Hall, graduating in 1992 with 130 career hits.

… Hack on Papaccio: “He really pushed us. I worked harder last year than I ever had in my life. He challenged us every day. A lot of practices were not comfortable. They were harder than games. He wanted us to practice hard to make the game feel easier.”

Thank you to Seton Hall University for the use of the photos in this story.

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