Hart doesn't miss a beat as All-Star

June 24, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

Alex Hart has been living up to his surname.

While talent and poise are major ingredients to his success as a starting pitcher with the Hickory Crawdads, he still relies on a lot of hart - er, heart - to stay on the path heading to a major league baseball career.

It's the same focused attitude which led Hart to be elected to the Southern Division pitching staff for tonight's South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Applebee's Park in Lexington, Ky.

The numbers merit the selection. The Chambersburg, Pa., graduate is 9-1 with a 2.66 ERA while walking 38 and striking out 68 in 81 1/3 innings.


But his focus cements it.

"I'm not surprised (to be selected as an All-Star)," Hart said via telephone. "You need to have high expectations if you expect to keep advancing. Things have just fallen into place."

It hasn't been without a lot of work, though.

Hart was the fifth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2002 draft. It was a huge reward after bypassing being selected by Baltimore coming out of high school and a successful, but injury-plagued college career at Florida. The 23-year-old came back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2000 to go 13-3 in 2002 for the Gators.

"(High school) was a long time ago," Hart said. "I've come a long way, mentally and physically. Being able to throw 90 mph is nothing. Every starter here has a 90-plus fastball, but if you have that in high school, you are able to just throw the ball down the middle of the plate."

The development of pitches other than the fastball comes with time. But perfecting them is only part of what Hart has learned he's needed to be successful.

"The main things I have learned is to take care of my body and that you have to take pride in your game," Hart said. "You have to work your tail off every time you come to the park."

Since becoming a pro, the 6-foot-6, 225-pounder has taken care of his business. He started his career with Williamsport (Pa.) in the New York-Penn League with 18 appearances, including 15 starts. He was a combined 22-3 in 2002 at Florida and Williamsport. He is 16-1 in his first full year as a pro.

Hart helped Hickory, the defending SAL champions, win the first-half Southern Division title and a berth in the playoffs. He is one of four Crawdads on the Southern team. Meanwhile, pitcher Matt Palmer is the only Hagerstown Suns representative on the Northern Division.

One thing Hart will miss this season is the opportunity to play in Hagerstown. Hickory was sent into the Southern Division this season when the SAL realigned because of the move of Columbus (Ga.) to Lake County. The Suns only play four games against Southern Division teams and they will be in Hickory on Aug. 6-10.

"I wish we could play in Hagerstown because it would be much easier on my parents," Hart said. "It would have been nice for all the people who have supported me to be able to come and see us play. We'll just have to settle for Delmarva."

For some, an All-Star selection would be a highlight in a career. For Alex Hart, it's just a scenic stop on a long road ahead.

"I'm not trying to sound too cocky, but anything less than making it all the way to Pittsburgh would not be a success for me," Hart said.

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