When Highland High School came up short against Triad in the 2012 regional championship game, Geoff Hartlieb thought he was done with baseball. His future was to be on the hardwood, not the diamond — or so he thought.
“Three years ago, I thought I had played my last baseball game ever,” Hartlieb said.
Despite a fastball that topped out above 90, after he graduated high school, Hartlieb went off to Quincy University to compete at the next level in his first love, basketball.
“All he could think about was basketball, basketball, basketball. He was all about basketball, and he pursued it and loved it, and there is nothing wrong with that,” said HHS baseball coach Joel Hawkins. “(But) I always told him, ‘Your gift is your right arm, and you should make use of it.’”
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How right his old coach would turn out to be.
After one year at Quincy, Hartlieb transferred to Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., and switched to baseball.
The 6-6 senior right-hander was 2-3 for Lindenwood University with a 6.02 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings this past spring. He appeared in 12 games, including five as a starter.
His fastball was routinely clocked at 91-93, and he touched 94-95. Scouts took notice, but the idea of playing professionally was still just a dream.
“If you would’ve told me at the beginning of last season this is where baseball would take me, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Hartlieb said.
Where it took him was to the New York Mets.
Hartlieb was selected by the Mets in the 37th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on Wednesday, the 1,109th pick overall.
A long wait
Hartlieb said waiting on Tuesday and Wednesday to hear a team call his name was long and painstaking.
“The longer it went, the more frustrated I got. But in the end, it was still awesome,” he said. “Seeing my name was very cool, and I won’t soon forget it.
“I liked the Mets from the beginning of the scouting process, and I’m happy they chose me. I’ve been a die-hard Cards fan my whole life, but now the Mets are on top for me.”
The wait was no less excruciating for the rest of his family.
For Geoff’s dad, Chris, it was made even more difficult because he couldn’t be with his son during the draft. Highland High School’s assistant/junior varsity girls basketball coach, he was busy with his team at a summer camp.
“It was crazy to try to keep up on my phone during games I was actively coaching and during basketball camp,” Chris Hartlieb said. “With Wendy (Chris’ wife and Geoff’s mother, who passed away on April 23), his No. 1 fan, and myself both unable to be there with him, there was a bittersweet aspect to it all. But that’s the life of a coach.”
Geoff being drafted brings a positive light to the Hartlieb family after losing their matriarch to cancer this spring.
“It’s been a tough year. Losing Wendy has rocked us to the core,” Chris said. “The reality check in the hospital when they told me she wasn’t likely going to be with us to see this day was beyond awful. I just take some solace in the idea that she’s watching over all of us and is somehow pulling strings on our behalf.”
Geoff said it was hard to experience such a monumental momement without the “one person who would’ve enjoyed it the most.”
“I know she’s proud of me up there, and she’s helping me out anyway she can,” he said. “It’s just hard to come to the realization she’ll never get to see me live any of these dreams I had.”
Wendy and Chris were on the sidelines for innumerable games with both kids.
“I would never have predicted that all of those games would some day find Geoff where he is today,” Chris said. “There were times it felt like the running from one event to the next would never end, but looking back, I’m glad we did it all as a family. There were a lot of good times that won’t be forgotten.”
Geoff’s sister, Hannah, who will be a sophomore this fall at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said she is doubly proud of her big brother.
“I’m feeling twice as proud of him right now, once for my mom and once for myself,” she said. “It makes me so happy thinking of the big smile mom has looking down on him right now. I know how proud she is of him, just like I am. My heart is full tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for him.”
Showcase at Wrigley
The last weekend before the draft started on Monday, Goeff was invited by the Chicago Cubs to Wrigley Field to participate in a showcase for Major League scouts.
“Wrigley was awesome,” Geoff said. “It was my first time to the park, and it was a great experience. I’m grateful the Cubs invited me to work out for them. I thought I threw the ball for the Cubs better than I had for any other team I worked out for ,and I was happy with how things went in Chicago.”
Chris Hartlieb said the event at Wrigley was a cool experience.
“It was really fun just to see him get a chance to perform in such an historic stadium. For my first trip to Wrigley, it was worth the wait,” he said.
Another HHS player drafted
Geoff Harlieb becomes the fourth Highland High School player drafted by MLB since Joel Hawkins has been the head coach.
The first one was Ryan Martin, a catcher who was drafted in the 55th round by the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 MLB draft.
The second was Chris Frey, a center fielder/pitcher who was selected in the 11th round by the Colorado Rockies in 2005.
The third was Jake Odorizzi, who was picked 32nd overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 while leading the Bulldogs to the inaugural Class 3A state baseball title. Odorizzi is now in the big leagues, a member of the starting pitching staff for the Tampa Bay Ray.
“They are the only four of a very special club,” Hawkins said Thursday morning while on a bus to Joliet with his current Bulldog team to compete in the Class 3A state finals for the first time since that state championship team seven years ago.
In May, Geoff came by a Bulldogs practice and played long toss with the current team.
“He was throwing the ball all the way from the fence in,” Hawkins said. “He’s got ability that not a lot of guys have. We are very excited for him and and hope he shows them what he can do.”
Whether Geoff signs or not is still up in the air.
“Finishing college this year and still having two years of eligibility remaining leaves him options,” his father said. “My advice is to follow his heart. It’s tough to go wrong when one simply does that.”