When Jaxon Hallmark was a freshman in 2018, he envisioned himself as a home run hitter. As he describes it, he had that “delusion.”
“I’m not going to lie,” the senior from Midland, Texas, said during Nebraska’s weekly Zoom conference on Wednesday. “I’ve slowly bought into the role that I’m not.”
He has hit three home runs this season, as well as two doubles and a triple. But extra-base hits aren’t the reason he’s leading the Huskers with a .383 batting average.
“The last two years, especially, I was told I was a runner, right when this coaching staff got here. I bought into it, and it’s paying off,” said Hallmark, who also leads the team with 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts and is tied for second with 25 runs scored.
“I try to hit the ball on the ground. I’m trying to expose defenses that can’t field the ball. I’m trying to run. I’m trying to do everything like that . . . it’s starting to pay off I guess.”
That’s how he’ll approach this weekend’s three-game series against Michigan State, 11-5, in East Lansing. Friday’s game is slated for a 4:05 p.m. CT first pitch and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s and Sunday’s games will be streamed on BTN+.
It’s another road trip for Nebraska, which swept three games at Penn State last weekend to retain its half-game, first-place lead over Michigan in the Big Ten.
As with his teammates, his “body’s not feeling great every day like it was opening weekend,” he said. But going on the road again, for a lengthy, though not as long as last week’s trip, won’t be a factor in the Huskers’ play. “I’ll say something that we love to say around Nebraska baseball: ‘Don’t care.’ I mean, long road tip, don’t care. Tired, don’t care. Just show up and play.
“That’s what we want to do every day. That’s what we try to do every day.”
That’s why the Huskers have won 18-of-24 games, including the last four.
Players who understand their roles are also a reason for the success.
Hallmark started to understand his role as a hitter after a sophomore year in which he batted .234. He had earned a place on the Big Ten All-Freshman team, hitting .261.
He had just undergone wrist surgery when Will Bolt and staff arrived, and then had another surgery to remove the pins. As a result, he had problems swinging a bat. “So I bunted the entire fall (practice), like in-game, with the third baseman in playing in my back pocket and the first baseman playing in my back pocket,” Hallmark said. “I think I bunted .300 in that fall.”
The coaches “were like, ‘See, if you bunt, good stuff happens. Then you can hit ground balls; you’ve got holes wide-open,’” he said. “That was kind of my ‘come to Jesus’ moment.
“I had never bunted in my entire life, and then it did it and it was working. It was like, ‘Might as well do it in-game, mix it in.’ And now it’s the biggest part of my offense.”
Nebraska’s offense is as good as there is in the Big Ten. The Huskers are batting a conference-best .296, with the first six in the batting order hitting over .300. And they’re averaging 7.8 runs per game.
They also rank first in the conference in runs scored (186), sacrifice bunts (23), stolen bases (36) and on-base percentage (.399). And they’ve hit 32 home runs, fourth-most.
Hallmark’s three tie him with five others for third-most on the team, behind Cam Chick’s six and Max Anderson’s five. But Hallmark doesn’t consider himself a home run hitter.
He once did. But not now.