Two outs. Runners stand on first and second base. It’s a warm, clear night in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the middle of February 2015.
Making his second career at-bat, Hofstra catcher Chris Hardardt steps up to the plate.
As he will make habit of it over the next three years, Hardardt swings at the first pitch, darting the ball to center field to score David Leiderman.
Though the game ended in a 7-4 loss to the University of Hawaii, red-shirt sophomore Hardardt recorded his first career hit and run batted in.
“That’s when I really felt like I could get myself going,” Hardardt said.
“I didn’t really play at all my first two years here. I had to wait for my chance and stayed confident throughout.”
Finding a spot on a Division I roster is a tough task in itself.
However, the toll for earning a starting role or just competing in a game has a much higher cost.
Recruited to Hofstra as a walk-on, Hardardt – from Middle Village, New York – was red-shirted as a freshman and did not log an inning of play the following season.
“Coach [John] Russo offered me a walk-on spot. I just wanted an opportunity, so I took it and ran with it,” Hardardt said.
“I came with the same intensity every day. I knew it was going to be rough.”
It was so difficult that one day he was kicked out of practice for underperforming.
“Coach Kelly Haynes said I was one of the worst Division I hitters he’s ever seen. I got the boot from batting practice. I’ll never forget it. It was a humbling experience,” Hardardt said.
Without being discouraged, Hardardt continued to work hard and hoped to capitalize on any opportunity he found himself in, including that February night in Hawaii.
More recently, the fifth year senior delivered the go-ahead RBI single to right field to give Hofstra a 4-3 lead over Colonial Athletic Association foe University of North Carolina at Wilmington April 22 in the seventh inning – a lead the Pride never lost.
“He just figures out a way to get things done. Chris has proven people wrong his whole life and continues to do that now at Hofstra,” said head coach John Russo.
Still not the everyday starting catcher for the Pride, Hardardt still carries a heavy duty for the Pride in more ways than one.
A career .293 hitter in 83 games played over three seasons, Hardardt is considered one of the leaders of the Hofstra baseball program.
“Even from his freshman year he was that old wily veteran. He knows the game really well. He knows the small things,” Russo said.
For five of his last six weekend starts, Hardardt has been the solidified catcher for sophomore southpaw John Rooney – and for good reason.
The chemistry seems to help transition an already talented Rooney into a more mature college pitcher, which was shown April 9 against Towson University.
After giving up a leadoff base hit followed by a hit batsman, a young pitcher like Rooney can be expected to be flustered.
But with the guidance of Hardardt, that was not the case.
Rooney buckled down and got the next three batters out, holding a slim 4-3 lead over the Tigers.
“[Chris] gives a really calming presence. Rooney threw really well. I thought Chris had a lot to do with it. He was a calming influence when it was high-tensed. He brings that to the whole team,” Russo said.
His presence behind the plate has earned him more time in the lineup, which does not give Coach Russo any regret.
“I can’t have more confidence in him than I do. I see all the little things that he brings to the program to help us out,” Russo said.
One advantage to Hardardt’s game is his ability to always make contact.
In 205 career at-bats, the 6-foot-2-inch 235-pounder has gone down on strikes just 13 times.
“I try to avoid striking out, that’s always a goal. My ability to not strikeout; that’s something that I’m pretty proud of throughout my career,” Hardardt said.
“I try to put the ball in play and try to make things happen.”
Whether he is sitting on the bench, giving signals behind home plate or just trying to put the ball into fair territory, Hardardt is a part of Hofstra baseball for one reason: the love of the game.
“I love playing baseball. We may be struggling this season, but it’s fun,” Hardardt said. “There’s a lot of other things we could be doing that’s not as fun as baseball.”