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The deep freeze abated long enough Monday afternoon for the Harvard baseball team to practice outdoors. Having lost ten seniors last spring and gained a dozen newcomers, the squad looked decidedly different from the team that brought home the Ivy League Championship in 2002. But more than graduation had taken its toll.
Junior pitcher and first baseman Marc Hordon will miss the season with a torn labrum, the latest and most dramatic setback in what has been a brilliant but injury-plagued career. Hordon turned in a gritty performance in the first game of the 2002 NCAA Regional against Rice weeks after spraining the same shoulder and missed two weeks earlier in the season with a broken left hand. He also injured his other labrum as a freshman.
His outings limited during last year’s title run, Hordon still finished tops on the team with a 2.79 ERA and was one of the team’s leaders with a .325 batting average in 24 games. When healthy, the 6’3 righthander was half of a devastating 1-2 combination with Ivy League Co-Pitcher of the Year Ben Crockett ’02, now in the Colorado Rockies’ system.
“I had scouts come here to see Crockett and thought [Hordon] was him,” Harvard coach Joe Walsh said. “Some of them liked Hordon better.”
Hordon’s current shoulder troubles began against Brown in late April, when he slid awkwardly into third base on an attempted steal. Hordon didn’t even get the base—the attempt happened during a timeout—and he didn’t pitch again until NCAAs. There, a still-recovering Hordon relied heavily on a 56-mph eephus pitch that briefly stymied Rice before the Owls broke through against the big righty.
Hordon pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League later in the summer, but according to Walsh his velocity dipped as the season went on. A checkup in the fall revealed the extent of the tear.
Hordon will miss the debut of the recruiting class—one that Walsh calls “the best I’ve had since I’ve been here”—that will now be pressed to fill a still greater void.
The story surrounding another Crimson departure is less clear. Mickey Kropf—the would-be junior catcher/infielder—packed his bags over reading period and transferred to Vanderbilt.
Kropf split time between catcher and third base last season, hitting .262 while seeing his time behind the plate dwindle as then-freshman Schuyler Mann established himself as one of the league’s best catchers. But he forever cemented his place in Harvard baseball lore last May in a one-game divisional playoff against Brown. With the Crimson’s season down to its final strike, Kropf’s RBI triple to right-center tied the game, and he scored the game-winning run moments later as Harvard lived to play another day.
Now, Kropf is in Nashville. In an e-mail message sent from Tennessee in late January, Kropf did not go into his decision in detail.
“I enjoyed my time as a student-athlete at Harvard but I felt it was time to move on with my career,” Kropf said. “There are many things about Harvard that I will miss, especially my teammates, but my leaving was a personal decision that I had to make. I wish the 2003 Harvard baseball team the best of luck.”
Kropf’s older brother Andy played college baseball for the Commodores. He has spent time in the Detroit Tigers organization and was invited to Tigers’ spring training as a non-roster player in mid-January.
Walsh said that Kropf’s decision took him by surprise.
“All these years, I’ve never had a transfer,” Walsh said, adding that Kropf informed him of his decision at the end of the fall semester. “To me, I think he was disappointed with the seven weeks. He’s a hard worker; he wants to be out there.”
The “seven weeks” refers to the Ivy League’s recently-instituted seven-week rule, which mandates seven weeks of dead time for each team during which they cannot play or practice. The rule has been met with protest by scores of athletes, but if the move was the motivation behind Kropf’s departure, he would be one of its first concrete casualties.
If the transfer was instead motivated by playing time, it would appear more puzzling. With Mann’s continued growth and the return of former All-Ivy catcher Brian Lentz to Cambridge after a year off from school, Kropf was unlikely to see a great deal of time behind the plate. The void left at third by Nick Carter ’02 could very easily be filled by one of the team’s athletic freshman infielders. But at Vanderbilt, Kropf would seem to face even stiffer competition for daylight.
Vanderbilt junior Jonathan Douilliard, a Seattle Mariners draftee out of high school, has already been named the starter at catcher. Kropf joins three other catchers who will look for time behind him.
The Commodore roster also contains several potential starters at third. And new Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, the Baseball America National Assistant Coach of the Year in 2000, is known as one of the nation’s best recruiters—meaning that playing time likely won’t come any easier for Kropf in 2004.
Around the Horn
Former Crimson ace John Birtwell ’01 was named the Detroit Tigers’ Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year last September after a 58-game relief stint with Class A Western Michigan. Birtwell went 7-2 with a 1.59 ERA and struck out 101 batters in 79.1 innings… With Lentz back in the lineup and a sudden, unprecedented logjam at catcher, Walsh has worked Mann out at first base and Lentz in left field to make a platoon situation possible… The Crimson will open its season during spring break against several Florida teams, then begin its home campaign against Rhode Island on April 1.
—Staff writer Martin S. Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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