A trusty bat and a selfless attitude is all a coach can ask for in a baseball player. Harvard Coach Joe Walsh has all that and more in senior Mark Mager, Harvard’s reliable shortstop and No. 2 hitter.
Baseball is in Mager’s blood. His father, Frank—a former farmhand in the New York Yankees organization—cultivated a love of the game in Mark and his younger brother, Kevin, when the two were growing up. Now the elder Mager is in the stands at every Crimson contest.
“He’s been a huge influence,” Mager said. “He’s my best friend. I know that he knows how to play baseball, so I listen to him.”
Apparently, Mager’s father knows best. Last summer, the infielder was one of three Harvard players on the championship team in the prestigious Cape Cod League. Mager played with co-captain Ben Crockett and junior Kenon Ronz for the Wareham Gatemen, driving in three runs in 15 games.
Mager also played for the Chatham Athletics, who won the League’s Eastern Division title, at the beginning of the season.
“It was just a great experience, probably one of the best baseball experiences I’ve had,” Mager said.
Mager started out his Harvard career in left field before briefly switching to third and then settling in at short halfway into his freshman campaign. Now a wizened senior, Mager is looking forward to being part of a powerful lineup this year with an experienced infield full of strong veteran leaders.
“We’re all best friends,” Mager said. “Our entire senior class is very tight.”
After a couple of down seasons, Mager thinks Harvard has a solid chance of returning to the top of the league.
“Our goal is to win the Ivy League,” Mager said. “We won when I was a freshman, and I just thought we’d win every year. We look very strong behind Ben and Justin [Nyweide] as our one and two starters. We can beat anyone in the country.”
Arguably the most consistent hitter for Harvard over the past two years, Mager posted a .343 average last season with 33 RBI and 11 doubles. Two years ago, he was the only starter who kept his average above .300 during a team-wide slump.
Always modest, Mager attributes his success to luck more than anything else.
“Baseball’s a funny game where you can hit the ball right on the button, and it’ll get caught,” Mager said. “Then another time you’ll hit it not as well, and it’ll fall in. I think a lot of times it was just good breaks.”
Describing himself as a contact hitter, Mager emphasizes situational hitting. While the team has the speed that could help the Crimson manufacture runs, Mager is keen on going for the big hit in the right situations.
“I feel like we’re hitting the ball better than any other team I’ve played on in my four years here,” Mager said. “We can definitely steal a little more and do a little more situational hitting this year, but we’ll try to get the runs in.”
On most days, the fleet-footed Mager will bat either leadoff or the two-hole in the lineup. While he says he has no preference for his spot in the order, he relishes the opportunity to be aggressive to start the game.
“The one thing I like about leading off is that you get to set the tone for the whole game,” Mager said. “That first-pitch strike you try to hit as hard as possible back at the pitcher, just to show that you’re not going to be pushed over.”
This attitude has paid off, as Mager is within striking distance of Harvard’s all-time hits record.
With 163 hits to his credit so far, he is 45 off the pace of the mark, set by Harvard great Hal Carey ’99.
“If I could break the hit record, that would be a nice personal achievement,” Mager said. “But if I got four hits all season and the team won the Ivy League, I’d be more than happy with that.”