Sean Hartnett is having a ball

Most athletes take themselves too seriously. They think because they play sports and compete at a high level that they are above everyday people. Part of that may come from the way our society reveres athletes as heroes, which undoubtedly boosts their egos into stratospheric heights.

Senior pitcher Sean Hartnett is not a big-ego, me-first type of athlete, the kind you might run into on an average college campus. He is down-to-earth and not afraid to make some mistakes or look bad. This extends to off the field as well, where Hartnett is known to act goofy.

He pitched in a Superman costume, cape and all, during the team’s Halloween costume scrimmage. You’ll catch him singing whenever he has the chance or showing off his dance moves.

Fellow senior P.J. Jones, catcher, met Hartnett the first day they arrived at Washington State. The two lived across from each other in the residence halls and have formed a bond during their time in school. Jones described Hartnett as a fun, laid back guy, and said he’s “pretty loose” outside of baseball.

“He’ll be dancing and singing; Dude loves to sing, so you got to love it,” Jones said.

The 6-foot-5 Hartnett from Kent, Washington was first exposed to baseball when he was 4 or 5 through tee-ball. Hartnett said he’s been pitching ever since kids were allowed to pitch, around 8 years old.

He was a multisport athlete growing up and played soccer, football and basketball in addition to baseball. Although he spent most of his time on the mound, Hartnett said he looked up to hitters as inspirations.

“It never really was pitchers, it was like Edgar Martinez and Ken Griffey, but also Randy Johnson was one of my favorite players,” he said.

Once he made it to Kentlake High School he began playing on talented teams and was outperforming much of his competition. He realized baseball was his best sport, and that he was better at pitching than other high school kids.

When it came time to choose a college he knew he wanted to stay in his home state. This made the choice easy for him.

“If you got to choose over WSU and UW it was WSU all the way,” Hartnett said with a grin.

WSU pitching coach Gregg Swenson first met Hartnett in the summer of 2010, and when he first recruited him Hartnett was dealing with some injuries. But he worked hard to get healthy, and Swenson said Hartnett has continued to work during his time at Washington State.

“I think it’s finally all coming together for him. He’s been able to take the instructions that were given to him throughout his career and make the adjustments that were needed,” Swenson said.

He described Hartnett as the kind of guy who wants to make everybody happy, calling him a “pleaser.” This aspect of his personality makes him very coachable. But in trying to help Hartnett develop as a player, Swenson said he had to teach him to be selfish on the mound.

“Some of the stuff he does is great as far as being a human being, he’s a great human being,” Swenson said.

His college career has not been without its bumps in the road, and it has taken time for Hartnett to grow into the starting caliber pitcher the team has seen this season. Most athletes take time to improve while they are in school and once they are upperclassmen they begin to show their true potential. The same is true with Hartnett, who appeared in a total of 55 games in his first three years with only four starts.

However this year he has stepped into the starting rotation and is tied for the team lead in starts with nine. Jones said he is happy his friend is getting an opportunity to step into a starting role and contribute to the team.

“Sean means a lot to us and it’s good to see him contributing for us and being a leader for that pitching staff,” he said.

The amount Hartnett has matured shows when he talks about one of his most memorable performances in a Cougar uniform. He did not brag about an impressive outing or inflate his stats to make himself look better. Instead he pointed to a game against Oregon State two years ago, where he gave up seven runs in 5 2/3 innings, with five of those runs coming in the first inning.

Hartnett was shaken after letting the Beavers score so much early, but his coaches left him in the game and he went on to throw more than 100 pitches. What made the game so special for him was that even though he did not have his best game, the team had faith in him. And eventually they came back to grab a 10-9 upset over then-No.3 OSU.

Swenson also pointed to that game as one of the highlights of Hartnett’s career, a situation where he was asked to jump in to the lineup due to injuries.

“He gave us a chance to win and we did because even though he gave up some runs early he kind of settled down and stuck with it,” he said.

As for what the future holds for Hartnett, he says his main goal is to play professional baseball. If that does not pan out, he plans on using his accounting degree to work in business.

Hartnett’s desire to please people around him will be a valuable asset to him in any field he works in. Swenson said Hartnett’s high-quality character has been one of his greatest assets to the program. Hartnett epitomizes what the coaching staff has been trying to teach the players about being a good person on and off the field. Swenson called him the poster child for what they look for as far as character is concerned.

“We can hang our hat on guys like Sean who are great students, great citizens, who years from now will be making a bigger name for himself as a business person or a community leader,” he said.

You can support Sean Hartnett and the rest of the Cougars this weekend as they take on San Jose State at home, with tonight’s game scheduled to start at 6 p.m.