Dirtied wrist tape and sunflower seeds began to clutter the dugout floor as Seton Hall watched its 2023 season wane. For the second time in three seasons, the Pirates had lost each of their first two games of the Big East Conference tournament and their hopes of end-of-season hardware were cut abruptly. Packed into a quiet bus, the players sat with an indescribable disappointment. As tears trickled down the eye-black caked faces of dozens of Pirates, its leader provided them solace.
Devin Hack assured his teammates he would be back in 2024. His time in Seton Hall blue was far from over, as was the pursuit of a Big East title. A decision that took him just a few short hours to announce, Hack made it clear he would be returning for a fifth year.
“I’m in there until the end,” Hack said. “I’ve got another opportunity to come back, [and] I’m going to come back, no hesitation.”
A season that marked a new beginning for the program and its revamped coaching staff would see the Pirates outshine the expectations of the collegiate baseball universe. The club was slated for 5th place in the 2023 conference preseason poll as non-qualifiers for the tournament, but Seton Hall would win 31 total games and punch their ticket to Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio as a three-seed. The offense had rediscovered its identity, logging a .291 batting average as a team, complimented by 40 home runs, the most in program history since 1999. On the mound Seton Hall registered a 4.43 earned-run average (ERA), 31st-ranked in the nation. Led by Hack, the Big East named three Pirates to its First Team All-Conference Award itinerary, and Seton Hall had re-established itself as a fixture in conference play.
“Growing up, every single age group that I ever played since tee-ball, I have been the guy that never stops,” Hack said. A year that had concluded without a championship victory for Hack turned out to not be an easy pill to swallow. Despite the team’s disappointing fate in 2023, Hack has instilled a poised energy in the clubhouse again, and the Pirates will be out for blood moving forward into their ensuing campaign.
Ever since he made his debut, Hack has been a force. Despite going hitless, he managed to score and make a sparkling dive to record an out late in a tight contest against the 20th-ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Pirates would end up dropping the opener that season, but a full-extension grab by a kid from Somerville, New Jersey would foreshadow a decorated career of stout defense and pesky play. That grab did more than just open eyes; it showed himself what he was about.
“Being able to make that play against an ACC school, on the big stage, on TV, it was like ‘hey man, I can do this,’ and ever since then I just knew I could stack up to everyone else,” Hack said. His problem was not stacking up, it was staying up.
As an underclassman, Hack was undersized for a next-level player, and a serious AC joint tear at the end of his sophomore season brought the realization that he needed to strengthen his body. Standing at 6’0'' and 170 pounds, the outfielder was forced to endure the grind of college athletics at a more rigorous clip than the average player. The weight room became his best friend, and Hack internalized the need to make changes while still preserving his skillset of speed and athleticism.
On the mental forefront, though, Hack has always been strong; he needed to be able to lean on veteran leadership. Hack was unsure of what to expect in South Orange when he first enrolled. Harder classes, nastier pitching, and of course, a new social climate were given, but for an 18-year-old kid whose world was going to be entirely altered, he benefited from figures who possessed the same qualities that he holds today.
“I know how valuable it is to have a leader that can guide you and help you because I had those leaders,” Hack noted. “[Connor] Hood, [Matt] Toke, and Shed [Tyler Shedler-McAvoy], those were the guys I looked up to. They showed me what Seton Hall baseball is.”
Some of the most head-strong, successful players the university has ever housed would breed another of their stature in Hack. Much like when the torch was passed to Hack from his grandfather Ronald Butkiewicz, an alumni of Seton Hall baseball who played on the 1964 College World Series team, the torch was passed from Hack’s role models to the man himself. A natural leader with an innate motivation for driving the teammates and staff members around him, Hack is the anchor of the outfield and has been unwavering in his ability to be someone the clubhouse can rely on.
“Devin leads by example, but when he does talk, his words are really impactful and everyone stops and listens,” fellow redshirt-senior and teammate Jonathan Luders said. “He naturally knows when the right time to say something is, and even the right time to say it. I look up to him because he is just very aware.”
A career .290 hitter, Hack has scored 88 runs for the Pirates while stealing 47 bases. In 325 defensive opportunities, he has made one error.
“There is not a better player that drives the team from every aspect. From offense to defense to his leadership, he is invaluable,” head coach Robert Sheppard said. “Even some of the plays he makes look routine, they are not routine, but because of the way he plays and the anticipation he has and the jumps he makes, even where he positions himself, he covers a lot more ground than a lot of other players.”
After being named to the 2024 Preseason All-Big East Team, Hack looks ahead at what could be his final season in his number 21 jersey.
“It gets more and more important to me every time,” Hack said. “Every time I put it on, it is one less time I get to put it on. That jersey means a lot. I have put a lot into this game, and that jersey holds a lot of importance in my heart.'
"I think that a big problem today is guys are just transferring out to go to a better team," Hack regarded. "Man, Seton Hall is my team.”
Mark Mincolelli can be reached at email@example.com.