In the first inning of game one of the 2014-15 season, a nervous new face for the University of Utah baseball team took the field. Freshman Hunter Simmons was tense, but not just because he was playing on a big stage. It was what happened moments before that sent a rush of emotions flooding through his body.
A ground ball was hit to third baseman Dallas Carroll when a base runner ran into Carroll, breaking his collarbone and sidelining him for the entire season.
“They moved the first baseman to third base,” Simmons explained. “They said ‘Simmons, you’re going in.’”
Simmons, who came to Utah as a first baseman, started first that day, and he said he remembers being so scared he was shaking. He made one start at first, and then he went on to start 27 games in the outfield where head coach Bill Kinneberg said he placed him so he had a chance to get in the lineup. Simmons played 35 total games during his freshman campaign.
The experience of having to be ready to help at a moments notice was a lesson that helped Simmons grow, something he has done a lot of over the time he played at Utah.
“I think his biggest change was for four years he’s grown up,” Kinneberg said. “[He’s] done a great job on and off the field, and those are things I’m most proud of.”
During his first two years as a Ute, Simmons admits he felt like he didn’t prepare well as his back was against the wall. He struggled to find where he belonged on the team, but he eventually discovered what needed to change in order to flip things around.
“I just started working harder,” Simmons said. “I noticed as I was working harder I started to get better. I was like ‘Oh, I can do this.’”
From the first time Simmons took the field with a pounding heart to his senior season, over the years Simmons has learned many lessons that have helped him become who he is today. He has come to realize that the way to have confidence is by preparing. The 6-foot-4-inch starting first baseman who reached out to Utah — the one who asked the university to come watch him play in high school because he wanted to compete in the Pac-12 — has learned to also trust his abilities, even if it has taken some time.
Looking back, Simmons’ favorite memory while on the team was when Utah won the Pac-12 Championship. It was not the easiest year, and clinching the title came down to the final game of the regular season, but that was another slice of experience that helped Simmons grow.
Simmons knows it will be hard to say goodbye to Utah and move on to the next phase of his life. From a team that is now more of a family, to the academic advisors, coaches, trainers and the facilities that have been a part of his college life, in one way or another, they have helped him grow as well.
“This specific staff, team and culture will have a special place in my heart,” Simmons said.
For the teammates Simmons is leaving behind and the ones who have yet to suit up in a Utah uniform, he has some advice.
“Work hard,” Simmons said. “Never take it for granted. Some people may not play this game ever again. If you work hard and you prepare yourself, the sky is the limit for you. You have to believe in yourself, you have to put in the work, you have to believe that the work is going to get you to where you want to be and you have to know that you belong.”