A beautiful sight to many, Nebraska’s winter snow-capped baseball fields are giving way to bright green springtime grass and brown infield dirt chalked with baselines.
While people of all ages flock to the fields full of anticipation for a summer of baseball, there is a good chance one will see Nebraska senior Hunter Fitton involved in the game one way or another.
Fitton, 22, is not unique because he loves baseball. Many college students share his love for the game.
Fitton is unique because of the way he has stayed involved in baseball beyond his playing career, as he’s balanced school and work.
Fitton is now in his third season as the head coach of a Millard United youth baseball team. He does it as a full-time student with jobs at the Lincoln Saltdogs and Corn Nation. Fitton also holds a leadership position in both a social and professional fraternity.
“I’m beyond busy as you can imagine,” Fitton said. “But I love baseball and I’ve gotten so much out of all this stuff I do.”
Fitton’s mother said his grandfather introduced him to the game and created a passion that turned into a successful youth and high school career. That itch for baseball persisted into college even though Fitton’s time on the diamond came to an end.
As a sophomore, Fitton and a group of former high school teammates threw around the idea of coaching while reminiscing on days spent at the ballpark.
“Everybody who played baseball misses it and knows they want to coach one day, so we just sort of asked, ‘Why not just do it?’” Fitton said.
It did not take long for him to act upon the idea.
A few days and calls to youth baseball organizations later, Fitton had a head coaching position with the Millard United Yankees, a 12-and-under recreational team. A few of his friends and former teammates joined his staff as assistant coaches.
“It was super cool because I grew up playing in Millard United and for the Yankees, so it literally all came full circle,” Fitton said.
Baseball seems to have a way of bringing people back home. But as anyone who has played knows, the challenges of the game can test even the toughest fortitudes.
Coaching is no different, Fitton said.
“It was tough at first to get the parents to trust us coaching their kid while they pay a lot of money for them to play,” Fitton said. “They had a good reason. I mean, we came to practice looking like 19-year-old frat guys.”
Nonetheless, Fitton’s coaching style quickly won over the players, and support from the parents soon followed.
“He points out what players could improve on and other tips mid-game without being too condescending or yelling at them,” assistant coach and fellow UNL senior Robert Killgore said. “He is quick to pick them up when he notices a player frustrated or disappointed.”
His players appreciate the relaxed attitude.
“Hunter is a lot of fun to play for,” Ronnie Miller, a second baseman on Fitton’s team this season, said. “He just has a lot of fun with us at practices and lets us be ourselves. Some of our past coaches haven’t always been like that.”
Christian Seely and Louie Schmidt echoed Miller’s thoughts and said the culture Fitton creates leads to better play and less fear of making mistakes.
Fitton tries to bring the energy and make baseball enjoyable even when the score is not in his team’s favor. Opposing coaches, old enough to have a kid on their team, have asked after games how he makes sure his team is always having a good time, Fitton said.
It’s an approach that has led to success for Fitton.
After coaching his recreational team for two seasons, Millard United asked Fitton to take things a step higher and coach a 14-year-old travel team. Although it meant more games, practice, and logistical planning, Fitton and his assistant coaches knew it was what they wanted.
“Coaching allows me to give back to the game and the kids,” Fitton said. “Baseball has always been the biggest thing in my life, so it only made sense for me to do this.”
But Fitton is less concerned about his achievements.
“It is clear just watching from the dugout or the stands that Hunter is invested in the players’ success,” Killgore said.
A handful of the players Fitton coached the previous two years were able to make the jump with him to travel ball. Similarly, Fitton’s former players are a perfect three-for-three on making their high school baseball team, he said.
While these marks are important to Fitton, he has focussed more on providing an opportunity for his players to grow through baseball.
“I’m proud to say I know the name of every kid I’ve coached,” Fitton said. “It’s so cool to see kids who have clearly improved and know that you had a big part in that. I’m just really proud.”
Fitton’s dedication to coaching has helped him get noticed by those working in baseball.
The Lincoln Saltdogs, a professional baseball team in the American Association, hired Fitton as a sales and promotions gameday intern in 2021. While coaching on the side, he spent days in the front office selling tickets and organizing promotions to boost the fan experience.
“Hunter worked his tail off and did an incredible job,” said Zach Scamehorn, a member of the Saltdogs sales and promotions team. “He’s got a bright future in baseball.”
The Saltdogs agreed and promoted Fitton to clubhouse manager for the upcoming season. He’ll work with the team to meet all its needs in clubhouse operations, pregame warmups, and equipment management.
It’s a step in the right direction as Fitton continues to chase his dream of working in Major League Baseball.
He has goals of working for a front office in marketing or baseball operations, and will move to Arizona next fall to find another opportunity in baseball.
He’ll certainly go into it with a packed résumé.
Balancing school with extracurriculars, coaching, and work has been far from easy throughout college for Fitton. At one point this semester, Fitton took 32 credit hours between in-person and online classes, coaching games and practices five nights per week in Omaha, and providing regular Nebraska baseball coverage for Corn Nation.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed a lot,” Fitton said. “I lean on Google Calendar and my mom quite a bit. She’s always helping calm me down and make sure I’m in the right place.”
While that calendar remains packed, Fitton is happy that most of his college experience has come at the ballpark.
“I don’t regret any of it,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve just gotta relax and remember that I love what I’m doing.”