BASEBALL 2004: Hale Storm

Like a gale force wind in center, co-captain Bryan Hale covers his ground

Ramirez, Garciaparra, Ortiz, Nixon, and Varitek. The heart of the order for the Boston Red Sox reads like a list of Home Run Derby contestants. Similarly, Lance Salsgiver, Zak Farkes, Trey Hendricks, Schuyler Mann, and Josh Klimkiewicz anchor a 2004 Harvard lineup that will attempt to bash its way to the top of the Ivies.

But as the saying goes, defense wins games—and behind every Red Sox wrecking crew is a Johnny Damon in centerfield.

For the Crimson, that role will fall squarely on co-captain Bryan Hale. The defensive wiz from Seattle will man center for his third straight season, and Harvard coach Joe Walsh couldn’t be happier.

“Every ball club has to have strength in the middle, and Bryan’s defense is there every game,” Walsh says. “We’ve got an awful big outfield at Harvard, and he plays a terrific centerfield.”

The numbers don’t lie. In two full seasons playing center, the steady Hale has committed only three errors. On top of that, Hale has gotten to more balls than most patrolling O’Donnell Field’s spacious center.

“Just going after flyballs aggressively has always been my strength as a baseball player,” Hale says. “I really like just trying to run everything down.”

The senior’s value to the Crimson appears even greater when considering who will join him in the outfield. Of the three outfielders who will be regular starters this year for the Crimson—Hale, Salsgiver, and freshman leftfielder David Bach—Hale is the only one who even played outfield in high school.

Over the past two seasons, Hale has been instrumental in helping his teammates make the transition.

“From day one, Bryan has been offering me advice, encouraging me, and passing along knowledge and tips that he has accumulated over his career,” Bach says.

Hale also makes the other oufielders’ jobs easier. “His instincts and speed help him get to balls that a lot of guys couldn’t reach,” Bach adds. “It’s great having him play next to me, because it cuts down the ground that I have to cover.”

As steady as Hale’s defensive performance has been for the Crimson, his offense has been much less consistent during his Harvard career.

So far this year he is hitting only .250—10 hits in 40 at-bats—with 2 home runs and only 4 runs batted in. But that’s not to say his performance at the plate can’t turn at any time.

“He’s been what you call a streaky player,” Walsh says. “He’ll have a stretch of four or five games where people will be saying, ‘Hey, who’s that Hale kid?’ and then there will be four or five games where he’ll slump a little bit.”

For stretches, Hale has flashed his tantalizing potential at the plate. As a freshman in 2001, he bashed three homers in one week, including three-run shots against Brown and Vermont—earning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors. One weekend last season against Yale, he got hot again and belted four doubles, a triple, and a home run while knocking in seven runs to lead Harvard to a 3-1 series victory.

But he has juggled these performances with just as many cold spells. After a solid freshman campaign, Hale suffered several protracted droughts at the plate on the way to a sophomore slump, finishing the season with a paltry .207 average.

During his junior year, he batted .134 until his mid-April breakout series at Yale.

Part of this, he says, has been due to a lack of action in summer league ball, depleting his “memory bank of pitches.”

“But for whatever reason,” he says, “when I’m in a groove, I just go up there with a lot of confidence and swing the bat well.”

After his big weekend at Yale, Hale finished his junior season on a tear, watching his season average balloon from .134 to .257. League competition caught the brunt of the hot streak.

“Bryan seems to pick it up a notch when we’re playing the Ivy League teams,” Walsh says. “He’s had the stamp on him since he’s been here, that we’re just waiting on him to put it together. We’re hoping that he has a real good season.”

Hale’s speed, an invaluable asset to the team, also shakes things up for a Crimson offense that will hit plenty of three-run homers. Quick out of the box and fast down the line, the lefthander beats out groundballs and routinely bunts for base hits.

That speed helps him get past first, too. Last year, Hale stole nine bases in 14 attempts, showing off a quality that, according to teammates, adds a whole other dimension to the lineup.

“As a hitter, Bryan has a lot of pop in his bat and can drive the ball to any field,” Salsgiver says, adding that he is an “excellent baserunner” who “nabs bases at will.”

Walsh says that he has tried to convince Hale to cut his swing this season so he can get on base more consistently. The murderer’s row behind him will have no problems driving in runs, so if Hale can get on base more often no matter where he is in the lineup, that will be a huge plus for the Crimson.

As Harvard’s co-captain with Hendricks, Hale brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to a young Crimson team.

“I’ve always been a fringe, fighting-for-a-spot-in-the-lineup kind of guy,” Hale says. “So I make sure I try to bring those kinds of guys into the fold and keep them motivated. It’s easy to be focused if you’re starting every game.”

The speedster from Seattle will be especially motivated this season. After a heartbreaking loss to Princeton in the Ivy League finals last year, Hale is as hungry as ever.

“You want to win the Ivy League badly every year,” Hale says. “But I sure as hell would like to walk out of here with a ring on my finger.”

—Staff writer Robert C. Boutwell can be reached at boutwel@fas.harvard.edu.

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