Bob Hastings came to Harvard in 1952 with blue suede shoes and a blue suit. It was his first trip East after 18 years in Austin, Minn., and he didn't know what a mohair jacket was, much less that it was considered in vogue among the Ivies.
During Bob's senior year in high school, pressure had been heavy from his father to go Big Ten. In the '50s, the Big Ten was top of the line in collegiate athletics, and Bob, after all, was top of the line in prospective college athletes.
A classic three-sport man. Bob played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring, and as a senior, captained all three sports. Like many successful high school athletes, in his hometown he was the biggest thing going. But unlike most other mini-legends, word of his achievements far surpassed local boundries until he was perhaps the most widely recognized athlete in his state. Officially he was State High School Student Athlete of 1953.
Don Petty, a Minneapolis sportswriter, was instrumental in persuading Bob to shun the Big Ten and give Harvard a try. All around the country Harvard alums like Petty were on the recruiting trail, enlisting America's young athletes to fight for the Crimson. The recruiters had little to counterbalance the Big Ten schools' offers of scholarships, except "a Harvard education." But apparently that was enough.
The odd thing about the young athletes flowing into Harvard in the early '50s was that they actually liked to study. Bob was valedictorian of his high school class--and he wasn't the only one. The football team, the track team abounded with "hard" science majors.
Bob majored in Engineering and Applied Physics--and he worked hard at it. So hard, that at graduation he could flip a coin: Harvard Law or Harvard Business.
Shoulder to shoulder they stood, at play as well as at work. This was an era before specialization, the era of the athletic swingman. Athletes who had played three different sports in three seasons in high school just continued the pattern in college. Bob's backfield mate on the freshman football team--John Simourian--was his backcourt mate on the basketball team, and his fellow infielder in the spring.
Harvard athletics was a fraternity. There was a sense of well-being, of competitiveness, of being top of the line. It was, it seemed, the golden age of college athletics. It was a good time to be alive.
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Hastings, "Haster" as they called him, was never what you'd call a guess hitter. Though not particularly fleet of foot, he was blessed with extraordinary quickness. Haster would stand in the batter's box, facing the fireballer, or screwballer, or what have you 60 feet away, and figure that whatever that pitcher could throw, he had good enough reflexes to hit it.
The spring of '57, Haster and "Babe" Simourian and the other guys on the baseball team took a seven-hour ride to Princeton's Bedford Field. The Tigers had a good squad, and this day they had their pitching ace, John Finnegan, on the mound.
Bedford Field was fenceless. The diamond was part of the practice fields for football and soccer, and this meant that if a person was to hit a home run, he had to really knock it so that the outfielders couldn't chase it down. A smart outfield would make this doubly difficult by backing way out into the grass, for a dangerous hitter, sometimes so far that you couldn't even hear their between-pitch chatter.
Finnegan was a fireballer, and with a couple of timely aids form his distant outfield, he kept Harvard at bay most of the afternoon. When Haster stepped into the batter's box in the sixth inning, the game was locked in a scoreless tie.
Haster assumed his familiar stand-up, straightaway stance. Finnegan wound up and brought in a fastball, letter-high and inside. It was to be his first and only mistake of the game as Haster's blast sailed over the leftfielder's head and rolled down a hill to a neighboring set of practice fields.
Haster was a dangerous hitter. The headline was half an inch high and ran all the way across the page in the following day's New York Times: "Harvard Defeats Princeton, 1-0, on Hastings' Homer."
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Hastings was Harvard's first baseball All-American. After attending Harvard Business School, he married and settled in Kenilworth, III. Daughter Margo is currently a candidate for early acceptance to the College.
Every year members of the Harvard Varsity Club convene for dinner at the Harvard Club of Boston to formally induct members into the Varsity Club Hall of Fame. Nine candidates were inducted this year, Robert Hastings '57 among them.
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