Baseball's ultimate honor was bestowed on one of the University's own Sunday afternoon—and an enthusiastic UHart contingent made the three-hour journey to Cooperstown, N.Y., to witness the historic moment.
Jeff Bagwell, who starred for the Hartford Hawks from 1987-89 and then enjoyed a stellar professional career with the Houston Astros, was enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He becomes the first player from a New England college or university to be inducted during the Major League Baseball draft era, which began in 1965.
Witnessing this proud moment in University of Hartford history firsthand were several dozen alumni and other supporters who took part in a UHart-sponsored bus trip that left campus at 6 a.m. Sunday. Each person in the traveling party received a special gift bag whose contents included a commemorative Bagwell Highland Mint Coin card and an induction pin. They paid special attention during the ceremony when Bagwell spoke about his University of Hartford days.
"I was the starting shortstop my freshman year," Bagwell explained, "which gave me a lot of opportunity, because if I went to a big school, I probably wouldn't have played right off the get-go." Bagwell spoke fondly about a pair of lifelong friendships he established during his UHart days and recalled the "memorable time and great team" he was part of. The 1988 Hawks recorded a .707 winning percentage—tops in the school's Division I era—and advanced to the championship game of the ECAC Tournament.
UHart's all-time leader in batting average and slugging percentage, Bagwell was selected in the fourth round of the 1989 draft by the Boston Red Sox. He spent two years in Boston's minor-league system before being traded to Houston, where he would became one of the game's most potent sluggers during his 15-year Major League Baseball career.
Bagwell was National League Rookie of the Year in 1991; National League Most Valuable Player and a Gold Glove honoree in 1994; and is still the only first baseman in history to hit 400 home runs and steal at least 200 bases. Bagwell finished his career as a four-time all-star and three-time Silver Slugger.
The Killingworth, Conn., native was inducted into the Hall Sunday along with Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez. He garnered 86.2 percent of the required 75 percent of the vote, the highest total of the three players elected in this year's class. Two accomplished baseball executives, Bud Selig and John Schuerholz, were also inducted.