In 1993, the only cycle current Michigan shortstop Jason Christian knew of was the one he rode around on.
But while Christian was still hitting baseballs off a tee, former Michigan center fielder Brian Simmons hit for the cycle in a 24-2 win over Northwestern on May 8, 1993.
Little did Christian know that on Mar. 11, 2007, he would become the first Wolverine in 14 years to accomplish that incredibly rare feat – hitting for a single, double, triple and home run in the same game.
“It was something real special, it doesn’t happen a lot,” Christian said. “In all my years of playing baseball, I think I’ve only done it once, and that was when I was in little league.”
The sophomore didn’t hit for the cycle against some no-name division III college team, either. He did it against an Oklahoma team currently ranked No. 21 in the nation and that has won 13 out of 14 games.
“It was outstanding,” Michigan coach Rich Maloney said. “It’s a very rare feat to accomplish in baseball. It will be a memory he will have for the rest of his life.”
For the Loveland, Ohio, native, there was no foreshadowing that this was going to be an extraordinary day. But Maloney made a move that in hindsight was nothing short of brilliant.
“He put me in the leadoff spot and I never saw that coming,” Christian said. “I usually get my opportunities in the two spot, so I had never seen myself in the leadoff spot. I just tried to take pitches, which I don’t normally do, but everything worked out all right.”
After singling in the first inning, hitting his first career home run in the fourth and doubling in the sixth, Christian saved the most difficult part of the cycle for last – the triple.
He did it in the ninth inning, with Michigan holding onto a comfortable 7-4 lead. His first career three-bagger made him the first Wolverine to hit for a cycle on the road since Ted Mahan did it in 1976.
Christian’s success has earned him consideration to be the permanent leadoff hitter this season.
“We are keeping him in at the leadoff spot for right now until we get (senior captain) Eric Rose going,” Maloney said. “Once we get him going we will have to make a decision.” Maloney calls Christian a hot-cold player. But in the first 10 games of the season, Christian has been flat out on fire.
The most recent Big Ten Player of the Week is currently leading the Wolverines in five statistical categories – batting average (.432), doubles (five), walks (nine), slugging percentage (.703) and on-base percentage (.542).
Last year, however, Christian struggled a bit as a freshman, batting a mere .180. It was clear to Maloney that he just needed some time to blossom – and a chance.
That chance came when it became certain that senior shortstop Leif Mahler would miss the entire 2007 season with a leg injury.
“With the injury to Mahler, I thought I was going to be the replacement for shortstop,” Christian said. “I just worked hard in the offseason to prepare myself the best I could.”
To Maloney, it wasn’t if, but when, Christian would explode.
“I knew he was very, very talented, but I didn’t know when the talent would emerge,” Maloney said. “I thought he’d be a really good player that we hoped one day he would make a difference to the program. I guess it’s his day now.”
Although he would have played somewhere this season had Mahler not gone down, a full-time role at shortstop has allowed Christian to come into his own.
“I think he’ll have an outstanding season,” Maloney said. “He’s coming into his potential right now. He’s been awfully good and he’s done it over a 10-game period. It’s reasonable to say that against the competition that we’ve competed against that if he continues to work hard he could have a big year.”
One day, another Wolverine will hit for the cycle and overtake the position as the most recent Michigan baseball player to do so.
But Christian’s historic day won’t quickly be forgotten.
“What a beautiful day it was for him,” Maloney said.