Texas native Jaxon Hallmark was coming home with a truck full of groceries when he got a text from his mom about COVID shutting down the start of his junior season with Huskers Baseball. After that, he and his team went from training seven days a week to having nothing to do — no practice, lifting or facilities to run or take ground balls and swings. That team, he said, was ready to be one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Nine months later, Hallmark, 22, sat down for this interview with classmate, Brandon Idelman, to talk about fall practice, being a fourth year junior and what happens when he gets to put the “N” on.
JH: It’s such pride – it means so much to me. It represents like all the guys that have played before me, all the guys that I play with now all the future guys that are going to come that I hopefully have helped pave the way for. It means a lot.
BI: Are you a Husker football guy? Or?
JH: I still put as almost as much energy into Texas football as I do Nebraska football, but if it’s a Nebraska game and Texas game around the same time, I’m watching the ‘braska game. I don’t personally know any Texas football players and I personally know football players here and that makes sense. I’m friends with, I’ve hung out with them, I see what they go through all the time. I get it. I feel for him. Especially the media swarming them.
BI: What has your experience been like so far – this is your fourth season?
JH: The new coaching staff is awesome. I’m healthy now. When I came in here as a freshman, they had just won the Big Ten championship. I got here and started practicing in the fall with the team and was doing really well and I was like, ‘Wow, I can actually start and then I started and I played really well my entire freshman year and I was Big Ten All-Freshman.
BI: Then you broke your wrist?
JH: That was tough. I went from being on top to only playing half the time.
BI: You sat out for a season?
JH: We were not playing great until the end of the year. Then we got hot, made a run at the Big Ten Championship and almost won it. And then (Darin) Erstad retired and it was a big shock.
BI: Then, obviously, last season was cut short with a leg injury?
JH: Yeah, partially tore my MCL in like three different places opening night.
BI: But you guys kind of started getting a little something rolling toward the middle of the season last year, and then it was cut short?
JH: We started out – like we felt like we were ready to go and then we hit our first speed bump and lost our next seven games after winning the opening night and we had a players meeting – we needed to address some stuff. There was some growing pains with the new coaching staff just like being different with a new staff and then we got stuff ironed out and we came home. We started playing really good and it was just kind of like — it’s not depressing — but it was just disheartening because we felt like we were finally on the right track. We finally had the ball rolling in our favor and then we’re just done. Completely done. People have lost their jobs, people have lost family members, so I mean, we lost a season. We lost the game. In hindsight, if you put it in perspective, it’s not that big of a deal but like when you put in as much time and effort that we had, it just kind of sucks.
BI: What was your first reaction?
JH: We’re like this might this might affect us. We weren’t really sure what was going to happen. The MLB had already postponed the day before. We had already gotten the alert that the Big Ten was going to have no fans in the stands for the rest of the year. So we thought we were going to play in an empty stadium the rest of the year. And then 10 minutes before I’m supposed to leave to head to the field to go to Wichita State, we get a text saying Wichita State’s canceled. We had the weekend off like it was a normal like day off for us, and then we had another team meeting and we didn’t really know what was going on Friday. We didn’t really know. Then we got a text: You’re off for the weekend; Be smart; Don’t do anything stupid; Be ready to go on Monday. I went to Walmart and got like hot dogs and other stuff and then I drove home, and right when I got home, my mom texted me and said what just happened. So I got on Twitter and the first thing I see is that the College World Series was canceled. t was just like, we thought it was one weekend, and now we’re done. From one little speed bump to just complete. We couldn’t practice. We couldn’t lift. We couldn’t use the facilities. It was like I went from seven days a week having something to do for like six hours not including school and class to nothing.
BI: Before COVID, you think you guys had something special rolling, like you could have maybe made some noise?
JH: So, what I thought personally is good teams start off good, and then every good team that starts off good ends good. They have some point in the season where they just play awful and it seems like nothing can go their way and they can’t win a game and then all of a sudden they pull it together at the right time, and I thought that we were in a really good spot because we figured it out and we pulled it together quick. It wasn’t late to make an NCAA tournament push. It seemed like we had addressed everything that was wrong and we had turned it around early. And so I was like, yeah, if we already went and had our downfall and it’s up from here — if we have two more months of playing like this we really could have been one of the most dangerous teams in the country. But that didn’t happen.
BI: What are your expectations for this year as a player and as a team?
JH: I’m old now, just turned 22. It’s my fourth year. I’ve played in as many if not more college baseball games than just about my entire baseball team and as a player I see myself as a leader with a lot of experience and I feel like my main job this year is to help these younger guys because we’re going to have a lot of younger guys in the lineup and I played as a freshman. I know how weird it is jumping into a new level and playing right away. That’s the best thing that I can do is help these younger guys learn on the fly and be able to contribute for this team. And as a team, we have so much depth in every position and our bullpen is like it’s never been. I really don’t understand how good we could be because I’ve never been on a team here that has been this good. But I’m in uncharted territories — our fall practices right now are so much better than any fall practice I’ve ever been a part of. So basically anything up from here.
BI: Well, since it’s your fourth year, do you have any plans for after this year?
JH: I don’t have any plans. I would love to be here. I just don’t know. I’m pretty sure my academic stuff is for four years, I don’t know what it looks like. I had always planned on being here for four years. And the thought of a fifth year never really entered my mind. I’d never missed the season, I didn’t have to redshirt and I was going to graduate on time. So, I haven’t even started thinking about that.
BI: Do you have any goals to make it to the next level?
JH: I personally do. I think that, with this skill set that I have, and the mentality that I have and the knowledge that I have for this game, I think I could make it to the next level. But that’s just me personally.
BI: What do you want people to think has been your impact on the team?
JH: I would want people to think that I played the game so hard. I played the game so fast, so fearless. That anytime, whether we win or lose, there was no doubt that we left anything in the tank, like every time that he played. He emptied it. He played hard. And he played the game the right way. And when I say play the game the right way. The game has given me so much that I didn’t deserve, and so I owe the game so much.
BI: What will you think about the Huskers once you’re gone? Or what will it mean to you? The university?
JH: It’s weird because whenever I was growing up, I was a die-hard Texas fan. And like Nebraska was so irrelevant to me. But what I remember about Nebraska football it was after they were good. They were downhill when Texas was at its peak. And so Nebraska was so irrelevant to me. I didn’t know anything about it. I probably didn’t even know it was D1 until I started getting recruited here. So it just went from being absolutely nothing to me, and then I came here on my visit, and I just stepped on campus and I stepped onto the field and I was just like, Wow, this is it — just felt like home. It’s crazy. Something can go from so irrelevant to just like a burning passion just like that.
Something can go from so irrelevant to just like a burning passion just like that.– Jaxon Hallmark