by Tom Utescher
The product of a successful high school baseball franchise at Penn Charter, Chestnut Hill native Steve Harrington wasn’t a happy camper at the end of his freshman season in college. He didn’t see a lot of playing time, and his Princeton University ballclub finished the 2010 campaign with the worst record in the history of the program.
Things turned around dramatically this spring, when the 6’2, 200 lb. Harrington made key contributions for the Tigers and the team knocked off two-time defending champion Dartmouth to win the Ivy League title. The former PC Quaker performed in many roles for the Ivy champs this spring.
“I started seven games in left field, seven games in right, seven or eight games at first base, and an equal amount as designated hitter,” Harrington related.
The Tigers went 15-5 during the regular season in the league, with Harrington achieving a .301 batting average. Princeton and Dartmouth split the first two contests of the best-of-three Ivy League Championship Series, then met on the Tigers’ Clarke Field for game three on Sunday, May 8.
“I had two big hits in my first two at-bats and helped get some runs across early,” said the sophomore slugger, who was cast as Princeton’s designated hitter for the pivotal clash with the Big Green. Dartmouth had returned many starters from its championship team the year before, but the youthful Tigers would carry the day.
Harrington doubled in a run in the second inning, then whacked another double in the third, earning two more RBI’s. The Tigers left the inning with a 4-1 advantage, and after Dartmouth got back within one at 5-4 in the fifth frame, Princeton piled on three more runs in the bottom of the sixth. The visitors scored once more in the top of the eighth inning, but still finished three runs short.
“It’s a good league,” Harrington pointed out. “I was watching the MLB draft recently and I saw that a fair number of guys from the Ivy were taken, and that happens most years.”
Winning the league crown earned Princeton an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They ended their season in the NCAA’s Austin, TX Regional, winding up with an overall record of 23-24.
After the Tigers’ disappointing effort in 2010, Princeton coach Scott Bradley turned loose the young guns, and this year a number of freshmen and sophomores became marquee performers.
“It was sort of a new start for us,” Harrington recalled. “From our results in the fall season we knew we had good players. It started to come together early in the spring. We went down to LSU [Louisiana State University] and won a game there, and then the first Ivy League weekend we were 4-0. From then on, we had a lot of team confidence.”
Harrington also plays squash for Princeton, having come from a Penn Charter team that won two high school national championships during his tenure. Historically, the Tigers have attracted some outstanding foreign-born players to their racquet program, but the current roster includes some players Harrington has known for many years, such as Chris Callis, a junior who was his teammate at Penn Charter, and Dylan Ward, a freshman from Chestnut Hill Academy.
This winter, Harrington ended up playing in the number nine spot for Princeton at the National Team Championships, helping the Tigers finish third.
“Four days later I was on a plane to start the baseball season,” he related. “It was a pretty quick transition this year.”
Even during the winter squash campaign, he explained, “I make sure I’m taking some baseball swings now and then.”
Comparing the two sports, he said “I think there’s a little bit of a crossover in hand-eye coordination, and I’d say I’ve gained a lot of focus, a lot of mental toughness from squash. Other than that, they’re two completely different sports, but so far it’s worked out well for me playing both of them.
“An important thing in making the switch,” he continued, “is getting stronger for baseball, because you tend to lose a lot of weight during squash season.”
Back on the baseball team at Penn Charter, Harrington was an accomplished hitter for the Quakers. He played first base as a junior, then moved to left field for his final high school season. He wasn’t personally discouraged by the developments during his freshman year at Princeton.
“I hit the ball well in high school and in the summer leagues I played in,” he said. “I was confident in my abilities, and it was just a question of getting more at-bats.”
Princeton’s location makes it relatively easy for his parents to watch him on the diamond and the squash court.
“It’s less than an hour away from my house,” he pointed out, “and it’s nice to have them come to a lot of my sporting events.”
He has two sisters; Shannon, who has just graduated from Stanford University, and Tara, an accomplished squash player who’ll start her senior year at Penn Charter this fall.
Harrington is spending much of the summer in Long Island, playing for the Southampton team in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. Most of the games are at night, and he’s landed a day job as a squash clinic instructor at a local recreation center.
At Penn Charter his academic interests included mathematics and American History, and he’s majoring in economics at Princeton.
“I think I’d like to go into business later on, although I don’t know exactly what area yet,” he said.
Midway though his undergraduate days at Princeton, he reflected “I enjoy the sports, the schoolwork, the social life, everything. I couldn’t be happier with my decision and with how everything’s turning out for me.”