Baseball wasn’t invented in Mississippi, but that’s what my childhood was infused with – baseball, and lots of it.
My dad, John Hale, was an elite athlete, in a lot of ways. Heck of a football player, heck of a softball player, heck of a golfer, in that order. He passed away 10 years ago this past December at only 65 years old but, if he were still here today, you might well add pickleball to that list of athletic dominance.
Dad was the Mississippi high school football “back” of the year when he graduated from George County High School in 1966 with a full-ride offer from every SEC school in existence at the time. He landed at Mississippi State for a short stint, then to Perkinston, “Perk” for those that know, to be closer to home, and closer to my mom. Then on to Southern Miss in Hattiesburg, where I was born in 1968. He could have had a long pro career as a kicker if he had wanted it, but he didn’t.
After football he dominated, and I mean dominated, the slow-pitch softball world in Mississippi and beyond for over a decade. Some of my fondest memories are from weekends spent dirty and sunburned behind the outfield fence at some coastal Mississippi town, shagging homerun balls for his team, while stealing homerun balls from the opposing team.
Golf came next after bodies do what they do in time, which is break down and let us down. He took after my grandfather, Bill Hale, who was a podium-pounding Baptist preacher and one heck of a golfer. They were quite the duo, at least when they weren’t getting under each other’s skin.
Growing up, all I ever wanted to do was follow in my dad’s footsteps as an athlete. The problem is I wasn’t my dad and those were some impossible shoes for almost any kid to fill. While I did get the frame, minus a couple of inches, I didn’t get the muscles to go with it. My two younger brothers got those.
What I did get, though, was a cannon for a left arm, a build and ability that was tailor-made for baseball, Hale athletic work ethic, and a small village of people to love me and promote me. That combination of ingredients took me places only God, fate, a pound of grit and a pinch of luck can take a fella.
Looking back at my childhood always takes me back to Mississippi, takes me back to baseball, which takes me back to family, friends, fellowship, and even Faith.
It took me decades of living to realize that God never needed a ballplayer out of me. God just needed the story. So….
He gave me a big man’s shoes to aspire to fill, steeped me in baseball, opened the door for me, built me a platform, broke it down, then broke me down, so he could build me back up, in time, in Christ.
Baseball season is around the corner, again, and while it is indeed just a game, it is also a tool that God uses to make and mold the lives of kids across the country and around the world. Just like he used it to mold the life of Shane Hale, from Lucedale, Mississippi.