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.