Baseball

Hibbeler lives up to ballplayer billing in first year at Texas

Masen Hibbeler (Will Gallagher/IT)
Masen Hibbeler (Will Gallagher/IT)

Masen Hibbeler had one offer from Odessa College following a career capped by a state championship at Cy-Ranch High School. The junior utility player played infield in West Texas, where the crowds are 1/70 the size of crowds in Austin.

After a year in Odessa, in state schools like Sam Houston State, Houston, and Texas Tech came calling. Texas did as well, and two days after his visit to Austin started at the end of September 2016, he committed to the Longhorns.

“It was as soon as I got on campus,” Hibbeler said May 16 on his decision to commit. “I took all my other visits and they went well, but when I got here I couldn’t leave here not committing knowing I’m going to come to school here.”

Hibbeler came to Texas as an infielder but after one year, he proved to coaches and fans that the most important thing to him is simply playing ball.

The kinesiology major was not necessarily recruited to play in the infield. Rather, he was brought to Texas because his love of the game was palpable, and the coaches noted the positive effect that had on the team.

“He’s never played outfield in his life, and now he goes out and is performing very well,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “That’s contagious. That’s the piece of it that he brings, that contagious attitude of do whatever it takes to be your best. He’s proven that.”

Pierce said he recruited Hibbeler to Texas as a “baseball player.” When asked what position he was recruited to Texas to play, Hibbeler echoed that sentiment.

“They really recruited me as just a ballplayer and really to fill roles,” Hibbeler said. “That’s what I’ve been able to do. I’ve been fortunate enough to play many different positions, and I’m going to do whatever coach Pierce tells me to do.”

His career in Odessa was impressive. He served as captain his sophomore year, lead the Wranglers to a conference championship, and posted impressive .493/.561/.792 numbers in 39 games. His play led to him being ranked as the No. 129 junior college prospect by Perfect Game.

At Texas, he started the season in the infield bouncing between second base, shortstop, and first base. He eventually found a home in left field because Pierce wanted to keep him in the lineup. It was the first time he ever played outfield in his career.

“I played infield growing up and into high school, then shortstop in junior college,” Hibbeler said. “It wasn’t a tough adjustment going out there because I’ve always said, even growing up, if you can play infield you can play outfield if you’re an athlete.”

Hibbeler grew up in Houston, so he had the opportunity to see a hall of famer in former Houston Astro Craig Biggio move from second to the outfield in the wake of the signing of Jeff Kent.

“I love the utility guys,” Hibbeler added. “Those are my favorite players in the major leagues because it’s awesome what they can do, and they can do it at that level. That’s what inspires me to do it.”

In balancing learning a new position and adjusting to a collegiate environment very different than his previous one, Hibbeler became a reliable player on the 2018 Longhorn squad.

Hibbeler put up .277/.372/.408 numbers in his first year. His 59 hits rank second on the team behind Big 12 Player of the Year Kody Clemens, his 12 stolen bases rank third, and his 12 doubles are tied for third. In addition, he fielded at a .965 clip with no errors in conference games. He even added an important assist in an April 24 game against Houston, throwing out one of his high school teammates at the plate.

Though he did it at a different position than what he originally anticipated, he achieved one of his longtime goals in starting every game in 2018.

“That was always the goal,” Hibbeler said. “When I was out there I just worked as hard as I can every day and tried to bring that here so that’d be possible. It’s a good feeling knowing I’d be able to do that.”

The adjustment to a new position is a difficult challenge in its own right. Adjusting to that change while being penciled in the starting lineup every game is another challenge that compounds the difficulty of the original task.

The physical side of it and learning the position came easy to Hibbeler. If there were any humps to get over, all he had to do was remember where he was last year; playing in front of dozens.

“What I like to do if I’m every struggling and I know I’m probably going to be in the lineup every day just by playing how I play, I like to look up at our stadium and just remember where I came from,” Hibbeler said. “From high school, to Odessa, to now, I look up and think ‘I get to play here every day.’”