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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Dan Kaczrowski, Hamline University

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

With the rise in the use of aluminum and other metallic bats in high school and college baseball, one of the most daunting challenges facing pro prospects is learning how to hit with a wooden bat. Consequently, there has been an increase in the number of summer leagues that use wooden bats. After two modest seasons for Hamline University, Dan Kaczrowski spent the past two summers playing in wood bat leagues. The exposure, coupled with his work ethic, has enabled Dan to become the MIAC Player of the Year, an All-American, a preseason national Player of the Year and possibly a pro prospect.

...

floated left“During my sophomore year at Hamline, a coach from the Boise Summer League was contacting college coaches in the area,” Dan recalled. “I had been talking to my coach [Jason Verdugo] about summer leagues. He shared the e-mail he had gotten from the Boise coach with me, and said if I was interested [coach Verdugo] would put me in touch with him. I was interested, and got put on a team. I went out there, batted .434, made the All-Star team and had a blast.”

Dan finished second in the league in batting and his 43 hits tied for the league lead. “Going out there and playing was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he stated.

His stellar performance in Boise piqued the interest of some scouts. Over the next 12 months, Dan’s play was even more impressive and he drew the attention of more scouts, fueling hope of a career in pro ball.

He returned to Hamline in the fall and proceeded to tear the MIAC apart. He earned co-Player of the Year honors by helping lead the Pipers to a 12-8 MIAC record and a third place finish. He posted a .500 batting average, an .829 slugging percent, and an on-base percent of .561. He drilled 35 hits, scored 24 runs, parked four homers, amassed 58 total bases and stole 12 bases, finishing first or second in the conference in each of those categories.

In the MIAC Playoffs, Hamline lost twice, falling to St. Olaf (6-2) and Gustavus (7-3) to close their season 21-18. It was the third consecutive 20-win season for the Pipers. Overall, Dan hit .477 to lead the Pipers, with 40 RBIs and 54 runs scored. He was named First Team All-Region by ABCA/Rawlings and was named Third Team All-American by d3baseball.com.

Dan broke the Hamline school records for at-bats in a season (151), runs scored (54), hits (72), doubles (16) and games played (41, shared with two teammates from 2008).

Last summer, Dan played in the prestigious Central Illinois College League, one of the top wood bat leagues, and was assigned to the Danville Dans. “Kirby Puckett had played in that league, which I thought was cool,” he said.

The players in the CICL are primarily from Division I programs. Dan, the only Division III player in the league, earned MVP honors as he broke the all-time record for hits in a season. In doing so, he caught the eyes of scouts from a number of major league teams, raising speculation that he will be drafted in this spring’s MLB draft. “I hope to get drafted this spring,” he said. “If not, I will try out with some of the organizations and with various unaffiliated pro teams.”

This year, Dan and the Pipers are in the thick of the title chase. They stand 10-6 in league play, in fourth place but are only two games out of first. Overall, they are 19-15. Dan is hitting .434 in MIAC play and .392 overall and has 22 stolen bases.

Dan grew up in St. Anthony, a suburb of 9,000 on Minneapolis’ northeast side. He has one sibling. “My sister Nina is a freshman at St. Thomas,” he stated.

He attended St. Anthony High, where he played hockey and bowled as well as playing baseball. He was an All-Conference bowler his junior and senior years. “Our team didn’t do all that good, but it was a lot of fun,” he said.

On the ice, Dan played in the Roseville Youth Association through the end of Bantams, which coincided with his freshman year of high school. “Our high school team was a cooperative team with Irondale,” he said. After playing on the JV as a sophomore, Dan moved onto the varsity the following year, playing wing. “I started the year on our third or fourth line, but was on the second line by the end of the season,” he recalled.

In his senior year, Dan skated on the first line and helped lead the team to a 17-13-1 record. He was named team MVP, scoring 42 points. “We were in a very tough Section,” Dan said. “We won our first playoff game but then lost to White Bear Lake, 4-2.”

floated rightIn baseball, Dan played second base on the JV his freshman year before splitting time between the JV and varsity the following spring. He took over as the starter his junior year and broke the school record for hits in a season. He also batted .508, but the Huskies lost in the middle rounds of Section play. The following year, hopes were high as St. Anthony had seven returning seniors. “We were expected to go to State,” he said. “We played horribly in the Section semifinal and lost 4-2 to DeLaSalle.”

Dan was named to the All-Conference and All-Section teams as a junior and as a senior.

Away from sports, Dan was involved in SADD all four years.

“My high school coach, Troy Urdahl, is a Hamline grad, as is my dad,” Dan said. “I think I always knew I’d go to Hamline because of my dad, and Troy thought it would be a good fit for me, too. Coach Verdugo was about the only one to really recruit me.”

Dan decided to focus on baseball in college. He has started at second base for the Pipers since his freshman year. That year, he batted .295 as the Pipers finished 13-7 and secured the first MIAC Playoff berth in school history. The Playoffs were shortened to single-elimination format due to rain. The Pipers upended St. Thomas 4-1 before falling 3-2 to St. Olaf to close the year 26-14.

In Dan’s sophomore year, he batted .295 again and was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention. Hamline posted a 10-10 MIAC record, finishing in a tie for fifth. They were 21-18 overall.

“Dan is a great leader,” stated Coach Verdugo.” He is very quiet but has a great ability to pick his moments to make a big impression on his teammates. When he talks, they listen. He is exactly what you hope for as a coach. Dan is great team player. His personal success is secondary to that of our team and our team goals. Dan is honest and will always put others before himself.”

Along with his teammates, Dan helps put on a baseball camp for younger players called Midwest Baseball Academy. “It is on Saturdays in January and February,” he said. “There are five different sessions each Saturday and the kids are split up depending on their age. Some kids are required to be ‘station leaders’ who just throw batting practice or soft toss, and others are ‘group leaders’ who take a group of four or five kids around to each station and coach them throughout the whole hour. Usually the older kids are group leaders.”

floated leftDan also gives hitting lessons to high school players on Sundays. “This is my third year giving hitting lessons,” he said. “I really enjoy helping high school kids with their swings in the offseason because they generally say they feel ready to go when the season comes around. When I have a whole winter to work with a player, it gives a lot of time to fix any problems in their swings they have. When you see a player make progress in a year it feels good to know that I was a big part of it. My weekends usually are pretty busy but I think working these camps and giving these lessons will help me in the future in being a coach.”

Away from baseball, Dan has been active in the Student Athletic Advisory Committee on campus. The group looks out for the well-being of student-athletes at Hamline and encourages support of Piper athletics among students and staff.

Dan is a Health and Physical Education major and will graduate in December. “If professional baseball doesn’t work out for me, I’d like to get into teaching and coaching, preferably at the high school level,” he said.

Dan is grateful to Coach Verdugo for his guidance and support. “Words can’t describe how much he has done for my success as a player,” Dan said. “I can’t thank him enough for all he has done, helping me get ready and improve to where I am ready to play pro ball.”

He is also grateful for the education he has received at Hamline. “Coming to Hamline has taught me a lot about what learning is all about and shown me the reason to learn.”

[The photos are used courtesy of the Hamline University Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2008-2009″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.