After choosing baseball last season, Hmielewski starts to make an impact

Hmielewski was a dual-sport football and baseball player at Minnesota before quitting football last season.

Outfielder Drew Hmielewski runs for first base at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. Eli Wilson's home run in the bottom of the tenth inning lead the Gophers to a 5-2 win over Nebraska.

Jack Rodgers

Outfielder Drew Hmielewski runs for first base at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. Eli Wilson’s home run in the bottom of the tenth inning lead the Gophers to a 5-2 win over Nebraska.

Jack Warrick

Drew Hmielewski came to the University of Minnesota two years ago as one of a select category of athlete: a two-sport Division I athlete.

Today’s sports environment has an increasing focus on specialization, but Hmielewski shined in all three of his sports, football, baseball, and basketball, at Marshall High School in Southwest Minnesota. In fact, he was good enough for the University of Minnesota’s then-head football coach Jerry Kill and baseball coach John Anderson to both offer him a spot on their rosters.

“We thought right away Drew had the chance to go play and be an excellent athlete in college,” said his high school football coach Terry Bahlmann. “He was a very explosive athlete, and it showed in all sports he did.”

Hmielewski redshirted his first year at Minnesota in both sports due to a shoulder surgery, but saw action on the football field during the 2017 season as a wide receiver and punt returner. Though he never caught a pass, he caught five punt returns for a total of 25 yards. Those numbers turned out to be his career stats with the Gophers football team.

After one season playing football and multiple surgeries and injuries while enrolled at Minnesota, Hmielewski decided to give up football to focus completely on baseball in January 2018.

“Injuries, there [were] considerations there. But at the end of the day, I have a dream and a goal to play baseball for as long as I can, and after talking to my family and praying about it, it was a no brainer,” Hmielewski said.

Though he decided to focus on baseball, he wasn’t guaranteed playing time during the 2018 season. He started one game and played in 11 while a team of experienced players went on a historic run to the NCAA Super Regional. He tallied six at-bats and had one appearance pitching last season.

Hmielewski said he didn’t play much baseball for almost two years while he was on a football scholarship. Still, the baseball team selected him as the Phil Isaksson Teammate of the Year last season.  

“I came into last year [like], ‘I’m going to be the best player and person I can be,'” Hmielewski said. “I didn’t see that much time on the field, but so what? … I mean, shoot, we made it to a Super Regional. So my role was to be an energy guy last year, and I accepted that roll.”

This season, Hmielewski has become a consistent contributor to the Gophers on the field. He’s started 10 games in the outfield and played in 20 while posting a .314 batting average.

“We recruited him, and then Jerry Kill got him and turned him into a football player,” Anderson said. “We’re just finally getting some player development time after all the surgeries and being in football. You’re seeing the product of a great athlete who’s starting to figure out how to play the game at this level.”

In a time when multi-sport athletes are becoming a rarity, Hmielewski came into a competitive Division I school to continue those aspirations with two sports.

“Ten, 15 years ago, three-sport athletes are a little easier to come by [in] high school, and he did it a couple years ago, and it was tough at times,” said Hmielewski’s high school baseball coach Chace Pollock.

Chris and Mary Jo Hmielewski, Drew’s parents, were both Division I athletes at Kansas State. Mary Jo Hmielewski went to Tracy-Milroy High School outside of Marshall and won Miss Basketball as the best high school basketball player for Class A in Minnesota before committing to Kansas State. Chris Hmielewski played baseball for the Wildcats for three years before playing professional baseball in the now-defunct Montreal Expos organization.

“We’re very proud of the manner in which he’s handled himself in the things he’s had to persevere,” Chris Hmielewski said. “He’s going to continue to grow and get better the more he has an opportunity to get out there and help the Gopher baseball team.”