After father dies, Hartleb takes time away from Illinois baseball

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Illinois’ Coach Dan Hartleb listens to a player during the game versus Bradley on April 27, 2010.

By Nick Fortin

When the Illinois baseball team took the field on Sunday for its third game against Northwestern, the Illini weren’t just playing for themselves.

Head coach Dan Hartleb hadn’t been with the Illini for their first two wins in Evanston, Ill., as he had traveled to his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, to be with his father. Hartleb’s dad, also named Dan, passed away on Saturday afternoon at the age of 86.

After hearing the news Saturday, sophomore shortstop Adam Walton said the team went out and won Sunday’s game for Hartleb and his father.

“He sent (the team) a text saying his dad was going to be watching us and we sent him a text back saying we’ll get the win for him,” Walton said. “I don’t think it was really on our minds throughout the game, but it was definitely in the back of our minds. I think we definitely pulled through for him yesterday.”

The Illini won Sunday’s game against the Wildcats 1-0 on an RBI single by sophomore catcher Jason Goldstein to complete the three-game sweep, securing the win promised by the team, but the loss suffered off the field was much greater than the wins on it for Illinois.

“All the adversities that everybody deals with and the experiences that people go through, you look for support,” associate head coach Eric Snider said. “Dan, his wife, his whole family, they handled it very well. It’s a tough situation. I always say it sucks when you lose somebody.”

The elder Hartleb was initially hospitalized in mid-March after experiencing congestive heart failure following surgery.

Although Hartleb didn’t tell his players what was happening right away, the Illini began to suspect something was wrong as they saw their coach travel back and forth between his hometown and Champaign. 

Walton said the team realized it was “pretty bad” after Hartleb was forced to miss the first two games of Illinois’ opening weekend of Big Ten play against Purdue between March 28-30.

Hartleb, who returned to coach the last game against Purdue, finally told his team what had been happening after the final game of the series.

“That was the first time he had really talked to us about it, but we had known what was going on just because he had been in and out the past couple of weeks,” Walton said. 

Walton added that Hartleb had kept the news away from the team so as not to distract the players from their jobs on the field.

“He kept it between him and his family,” Walton said. “He allowed us to just worry about what we were doing baseball-wise.”

Hartleb is expected to be back at the end of this week in time for the Illini’s home series against Michigan.

Snider said the best thing the team can do for its coach is to show support but not lose sight of the team’s goals.

“Knowing we’re there for you, with you,” Snider said. “Again, we’re a family, we’re a team. It’s a tough situation but, like we always say, ‘you still have a job to do.’ I just think guys will stay focused on what they need to do to be better.”

Walton said helping Hartleb regain a sense of normalcy will also be important.

“You want to be there for him as much as you can,” Walton said. “If we’re winning, if we’re doing well it’s going to make him feel better. It might help him not forget about it — because he’s never going to forget about it — but put it aside for a few hours and let him focus on baseball and us winning.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.