TEMPE, Ariz. – On her stage known as Farrington Stadium, Kindra Hackbarth displays a plethora of talent for the Arizona State softball team. Whether it’s playing the game, dancing in the dugout or leading her team in pregame yoga, it’s hard not to catch Hackbarth showcasing her smile.
Hackbarth’s smile reached its maximum size recently when the junior right fielder accomplished a dream: She was named an All-American. For someone who almost quit the game two years earlier, it was quite the achievement.
The National Fastpitch Coaches Association included Hackbarth on its Third Team of All-Americans as an outfielder along with teammate Morgan Howe, who made First Team.
In 2017, Hackbarth could hardly form a grin. She was facing the dark reality that her relationship with softball might be coming to an end. The game she loved and had known her entire life had left her in a corner of despair.
She had committed to play at Fresno State for then-coach Trisha Ford out of high school, but Ford left for Arizona State before Hackbarth’s freshman campaign started. After a season at Fresno State, for her own sanity, Hackbarth knew she couldn’t continue in the program.
“Starting off knowing coach Ford was going to be gone was kind of hard, but you have to have an open mind with change,” Hackbarth said. “You want to hope for the best. Honestly, at first it was split time and then it got to where I just didn’t play at all. It was hard to stay positive, especially on the bench and I know it’s hard for other girls that don’t play to stay positive, but in that environment, it just wasn’t fun.
“I just didn’t enjoy really being there and coming here it’s different. It’s just a better environment even not playing – even if you don’t play, we need everyone, we need all 18 girls.
“It was really hard for me at Fresno State, I’m not going to lie. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to go to practice. It was just hard because you have nothing to push forward to and you didn’t have anyone pushing you to be better.”
The softball field wasn’t the only place Hackbarth wasn’t herself. Her nightmare of having a heartbreak with the game of softball started to affect her personally as well.
“Growing up, Kindra learned that softball was something very important to her,” her twin sister and teammate, Maddi Hackbarth, said. “At first, it was (a) little girl is going out to have some fun, but it became very important to her. It became an escape for her, to go have fun and be herself, and that carried into her personal life.
“At Fresno, her journey there wasn’t the best. Sitting the bench, getting yanked when you get on-deck, when you’re getting prepared, her confidence just went straight down. Off the field it was the same way, she wasn’t herself. It was really hard to watch her every day.”
Kindra was at a fork in the road. She saw herself with two options: start a new foundation in Tempe with Ford or simply find a new adventure.
“Once you have a bad experience at a school, you don’t want to play anymore,” she said. “My only option was the only thing I really knew and that was coach Ford and what I’ve seen her do with the program. That’s where I only really wanted to be. If I couldn’t come here, I was going to quit, I didn’t want to play anymore.”
Before the 2018 season, Kindra and Maddi Hackbarth, along with Howe, decided to transfer from Fresno State. After months of appeals from the Bulldogs and the needed clearance from Fresno State coach Linda Graza, the trio were finally allowed to become Sun Devils.
Ford knew Hackbarth’s capabilities and welcomed her with open arms.
“Kindra is just special, you guys,” Ford said. “She’s a complete player. There are different kinds of players, and she’s (one). She just loves the game. She’s always looking for more, looking for more. How do I get better? What can I do? Works extra. There’s just difference-makers in our game and she’s a difference-maker.”
All three have played an important part in the Sun Devils’ success the past two seasons. But for Kindra Hackbarth to go from the bench to one of the best softball players in the country, all she can do is laugh at what could have been.
“I don’t even know what I’d be doing,” Hackbarth said. “I feel like I’d go down a whole another path as in like dancing or something. I don’t know where I’d be without softball or without the coaching staff I have today because they’re changing me into the woman I want to be. It’s just crazy to think where I’d be without softball because softball is all I know.”
In her inaugural season in Tempe last year, Hackbarth made NFCA’s All-Region for the West first team. Once she found her cemented role as ASU’s leadoff, Hackbarth kicked it into another gear. The right fielder finished with a .368 average, five home runs and 29 RBIs.
None of it compares to All-American season in 2019. Before the start of the Women’s College World Series, she had a .417 average, 17 home runs, 57 RBIs and 70 hits.
“It’s always been one of my goals to be the best I can be and be the best for my team,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to retire a jersey or become an All-American.”
With one box marked off the checklist, Hackbarth will have one more season to state her case and put her number 22 next to ASU legend Katie Burkhart’s number seven in Tempe.