For Tom Hrabchak, spending most of his first two seasons with the Bucknell University baseball team riding the bench as a back-up catcher was frustrating.
“The freshman and sophomore years were pretty tough, I didn’t get that much playing time,” said Princeton resident and former Peddie School standout Hrabchak, who played a total of 11 games in 2011 and 2012, going 3-for 13 at the plate.
“At Peddie, there are maybe 20 games. At Bucknell we are playing 40-50 games; it is tough to not be playing in that many games.”
Sensing that his catching knowledge could be applied in another way to help the team, Hrabchak switched to the pitching end of the battery.
“I had wanted to pitch for a long time, I had the body type more suited to be a pitcher than a catcher,” said the 6’1, 195-pound Hrabchak.
“The coach approached me at the end of my sophomore year and asked me to pitch over the summer. I had an advantage as a catcher, wanting to help pitchers do better. I know what good pitching mechanics are and I had to figure out how to do that myself.”
Getting some mound experience last summer for the Freehold Clippers of the Atlantic Baseball Confederation Collegiate League (ABCCL), Hrabchak emerged as a bullpen contributor this spring for Bucknell.
He made his first appearance at Richmond in mid-February in a season-opening three-game series.
“I came in at the end of the weekend, I had the last inning of game 3,” recalled Hrabchak, who retired both batters that he faced.
“I was very nervous. From where I had been as a walk-on catcher to my first year of pitching and going against D-I hitters, I did well.”
Hrabchak was a work in progress this spring, pitching 8.1 innings in six appearances with nine strikeouts and nine walks and an ERA of 4.32.
“During the school year, I was working on a splitter, it is a tough pitch to get down and control,” said Hrabchak.
“My velocity is in the mid-80s, which is not great for D-I. I think every outing is a learning experience. I had my ups and downs during the season. I had one really poor outing.”
Pitching again this summer for the Clippers, Hrabchak has produced some excellent outings as he made the league’s all-star game.
“The summer league is more relaxed, it is lots of fun, I get to meet guys I wouldn’t get to know,” said Hrabchak, who had three saves and an ERA of 0.64 in his first six appearances this summer with 23 strikeouts and six walks in 14 innings of work.
“I am working mostly on my fastball. I want to get my fastball consistent and cut down on the walks. The other part is getting faster to the plate when runners are on base.”
Looking ahead to his senior campaign for Bucknell, Hrabchak will be working to provide leadership and production.
“I want to be there for the guys and help the younger players,” said Hrabchak, who is majoring in computer science with a minor in physics. “I am really happy I switched; it is giving me more opportunities to play.”