LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – David Hale worked his way up the organizational ladder and earned a spot on the Braves 40-man roster this winter, bringing the Marietta native closer to his dream of pitching in the majors for the hometown team.
But if things don’t work out in baseball, he would probably have better fallback options than most in his position.
You see, Hale has an economics degree from Princeton University.
“Yeah, I went back two falls to get that,” said the right-hander, who was selected by the Braves in the third round of the June 2009 draft, after his junior year. “Pretty happy I did that. I couldn’t let that slip away. Way too much work for three years not to finish it up.”
Ivy Leaguers with economics degrees and baseball backgrounds are all the rage in the executive ranks of major league baseball teams in the 21st century. Hale, 25, is focused on competing for a spot on the pitching staff, not the front office.
The Braves have only one available spot in their bullpen, and Cory Gearrin is the likely frontrunner for that spot. Anthony Varvaro, Yohan Flande, David Carpenter and others including Hale are trying to make an impression in spring training, for consideration now or later.
Hale went 8-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Mississippi in 2012, with 124 strikeouts but also 67 walks in 145-2/3 innings.
"I don't know much about him, other than he's pitched well everywhere he's been," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Hale has a low- to mid-90 mph fastball, a good slider and a decent changeup. He’s working on his sinker and, most importantly, reducing walks.
“I definitely need to do that,” he said. “It’s just mental kind of stuff.”
In big-league camp for the first time, he impressed in his Grapefruit League debut Sunday when he pitched a seven-pitch perfect inning with three groundouts against the Pirates.
“It got the jitters out, for sure,” said Hale, who was asked how he felt during that brief time in his first big-league game, albeit an exhibition game. He laughed. “I blacked out the whole time, I don’t even remember it.”
“I was nervous, but once you’re out there it’s just routine,” he said. “I calmed down and it just flew by.”
Hale was an infielder at The Walker School in Marietta when he signed with Princeton before his senior year. He began pitching as a senior and showed enough promise to draw draft interest from a few teams, though not early round interest.
“That was the first time I ever pitched,” he said. “And I was like, I can’t give up going to school for that, in the rounds they were talking about. I wasn’t going to pass up (Princeton) for the amount of money they were talking about.”
Now he’s got his Princeton degree and chance to keep pursuing his first career choice. He doesn’t much care whether it’s starting or relieving. He worked in both roles at Class-A Rome in 2010 and high-A Lynchburg in 2011.
“I like to know when I’m going (to pitch),” Hale said. “But the adrenaline rush of relieving is pretty incredible, so I like that, too.”
Besides pitching in his first spring game, Hale has also gotten a thrill just seeing a certain Braves special advisor.
“Growing up in Atlanta, this is the team I watched,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome being in this clubhouse, seeing Bobby Cox walk around and everything like that.”
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