Hart makes cameo as IU centerfielder #iubase

Before games and during practices, Kyle Hart is a regular in centerfield.

He’s there shagging balls with the rest of IU’s outfield crew, treating the position as if it were his own. Late in Sunday’s series sweep of Purdue, the Indiana left-handed pitcher finally received his shot at live action.

Hart filled in for starting centerfielder Laren Eustace, who tweaked his hamstring running out a groundball at the end of the seventh, and made a pair of catches between the final two innings of IU’s 7-6 win over the Boilermakers.

For Hart and IU coach Chris Lemonis, it was the realization of a scenario the two have long discussed.

“I kind of jokingly told Lemonis every week that something’s gonna happen,” Hart said. “We’re gonna get ejected, we’re gonna use a pinch runner, someone’s gonna get hurt and I’m gonna be out there. To be honest, I prepared for that and it came to fruition today.”

Of course, as the baseball gods would have it, Hart — the Big Ten leader with six wins on the mound — was tested twice with the game on the line. Hart hauled in a liner off the bat of Purdue’s Alec Olund for the second out of the eighth inning with a catch that was made possible thanks to a little coaching from IU left fielder Craig Dedelow.

“Craig was hollering at me and I told him before I went out there, ‘You have to tell me exactly where to be,'” Hart said.

With one putout under his belt, the degree of difficulty was raised in the ninth.

With one out, Purdue No. 3 hitter Kyle Wood put a good swing on a ball that carried deep to the warning track. But Hart had a good read on it and reached up to make the grab.

Lemonis smirked thinking about the catch after the game, admitting to reporters that he was just a little nervous watching Hart track the ball in the lights and the rain. But the IU coach also felt confident that Hart was prepared.

“He takes fly balls in center field in batting practice, even on the days he pitches,” Lemonis said. “He’s probably one of our best guys. Laren tweaked his hamstring there so he had to come out, and with so much wind and stuff out there, we were going to let (Hart) play that one time through the lineup until his spot came up. He wasn’t going to hit. Don’t worry about that.”

It all worked out in a way that gave Hart a moment that was years in the making. He began shagging balls before games with former IU ace Joey DeNato years ago. DeNato also had a taste for fielding, and Hart said his former teammate was responsible for some of the best catches he’s ever seen on a baseball field — regardless of position.

When the time came to try the position in a real game, Hart jumped at the opportunity.

But first he had to find his glove.

“I didn’t even know where I was playing,” Hart said. “I just grabbed my glove — I didn’t even know which glove to grab. I thought I was getting a first baseman’s mitt or something.”