Chris Hacopian filled a tan, wooden booth with his friends inside the restaurant Don Pollo nearly every night in high school. Hacopian would order chicken and rice. For one hour, he was outside of baseball.

The group would then stroll across the street to The Baseball Zone, a facility in Gaithersburg owned by Hacopian’s father, Derek.

Five batting cages are spread across the 21,000-square foot indoor facility. A turf field sprawls across another side, with a weight room to the right.

The crew would stay until 2 a.m. lifting, batting and fielding ground balls. Hacopian looked forward to the sessions every day. He was, and still is, obsessed with getting better. Maryland’s freshman knows what he wants. He’s been determined to play professional baseball his entire life.

“He’s one of the best freshmen I’ve ever seen,” coach Matt Swope said. “His pro future is bright. He’s just special. He’s just different. He’s just an elite player.”

Hacopian made an immediate impact for the Terps this season. He’s hit the third most home runs as a freshman in program history and is three homers away from tying the record.

Swope isn’t surprised. In high school, Hacopian was the first Winston Churchill player to earn Maryland Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year honors as the Bulldogs won the Montgomery County 4A West region in 2022.

“He was very humble and he had every reason to not be,” Pat Skellchock, Hacopian’s coach at Churchill, said.

Hacopian said it was the first time his dream of going pro seemed realistic.

Skellchock credited Hacopian’s power-hitting to work in the weight room. Hacopian had gained about 50 pounds by his senior year.

“He was one of the most mature guys I’ve ever hit or lifted with,” Antonio Perrotta, Hacopian’s high school friend and Virginia’s first baseman, said. “He always knew what he had to do.”

Every decision Hacopian made was to boost his draft stock. He never thought he’d be playing college baseball.

“A blessing in disguise”

Hacopian’s pink gloves gripped his bat with his Jordans positioned in the batter’s box at Harford Community College in 2022. One by one, the then-17-year-old rocketed balls over the blue outfield wall.

After connecting on his 18th homer of the home run derby, Hacopian ended his turn early while holding a sizable lead. He won under the stadium lights as MLB scouts watched.

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It was part of a two-day summer showcase after his junior season. Competing against Maryland’s top high school prospects, the showcase was a prime opportunity to earn a draft selection.

But his left hand bothered him the next day. He tried playing through it but couldn’t hit at all after a few days, he said.

At a doctor’s visit days later, Hacopian learned he had broken his hamate bone.

It was the last summer Hacopian could flaunt his talents before the next year’s MLB draft and he had more events to attend and invites to earn. Instead, Hacopian’s summer ended in June.

“It was frustrating just because it was really random and sudden,” Hacopian said.

Hacopian talked to his parents about playing at P27 Baseball Academy in South Carolina for his senior year. There, he could play in front of major league scouts and still earn his diploma.

He relocated 500 miles away from his family, friends and teammates to Lexington, South Carolina, for his senior year. It was for something bigger: his career.

Chris Hacopian wears his glove on April 25, 2024.(Eric Robinson/The Diamondback)

“He’s very mature,” Missy Hacopian, Chris’s mother, said. “He does his own thing.”

In the fourth game of the year, Hacopian lined a ground ball up the middle and darted to first. He felt a pop as he crossed the bag. Hacopian hopped back to the dugout, clutching his left hamstring. He could barely walk.

He returned to Maryland and received an MRI on it, revealing a partial tear. He wouldn’t return to Lexington until the conference tournament in May.

“I was definitely in a dark space for a little bit,” Hacopian said. “But in reality, I think it was a blessing in disguise.”

He’d have to go to college — long an afterthought. At the time, Maryland wasn’t even in the picture.

A family reunion

Hacopian committed to Wake Forest as a high school freshman. He found a new perspective after his injuries brought him home in the spring of his senior year.

His older brother Eddie had just become Maryland’s starting first baseman after transferring from Cypress College in California. Chris Hacopian watched his brother at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium and became intrigued about joining him in College Park.

Wake Forest coach Tom Walter thought it was a mistake.

“I’m gonna tell you right now, if you want to play in the big leagues, you better stay at Wake Forest,” Missy Hacopian recalled Walter saying.

[The son of a Maryland baseball legend had to pave his own path to come home]

Eddie Hacopian knew his brother wanted to play professionally. He pointed to Matt Shaw’s first-round projection, and that Luke Shliger and Nick Lorusso were likely selectees, too, Missy Hacopian recalled. All three were drafted and Shaw was the 13th overall pick in 2022. By the numbers, Chris Hacopian’s freshman year has been better than Shaw’s.

Chris Hacopian felt he could develop similarly while playing alongside his brother. He decommitted from Wake Forest in May — the same week the Demon Deacons earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don’t think most high school seniors are going to decommit from a program that just got a number one ranking,” Derek Hacopian, who was the 1992 ACC Player of the Year with Maryland, said. “Chris is just different. He’s looking at the big picture.”

Maryland flags wrap the wall above the TV in Chris and Eddie Hacopian’s living room. But the shared College Park apartment was never a guarantee. Neither of them expected to play together as Terps.

Now at Maryland, the freshman is tied for the most home runs on the team and boasts the highest slugging percentage.

He connected on a two-run shot in his second collegiate game in February. The brothers embraced in midair after Hacopian crossed home plate.

“He’s just always been so advanced at such a young age in just the way he goes about everything,” Eddie Hacopian said. “He’s not a typical freshman.”

Swope calls him “a psycho” in the weight room.

Hacopian used to lift seven days a week and squat 450 pounds before game days. Per the team’s request, he now lifts half as often and doesn’t squat during the season to stay fresh.

“He’s a meathead in the weight room,” Swope said. “His work ethic is second to none.”

It’s all to ultimately play Major League Baseball. But before Hacopian goes there, he has the chance to cement a legacy in College Park — and he’s just getting started.

Chris Hacopian holds a bat on April 25, 2024.(Eric Robinson/The Diamondback)