Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just in time: After two years playing junior college baseball, 3B Tyler Hall excels at CMU

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || April 14, 2011

He could have been doing this two years ago; playing everyday, hitting everyday, fielding and throwing, annoying his opponents as one of the shortest guys on the field, but performing the tallest.

“Absolutely I could have,” he said.

And he should have been doing this two years ago; playing everyday at the Division I level, hitting, stealing and diving, one of the smallest guys on the field but always thriving.

“He’s usually been the best at every level,” his dad said.

And he probably would have been doing this two years ago; playing everyday for Central Michigan, hitting everyday for average and for power, but one of the smartest guys on the field hasn’t always been the smartest with school.

“We were tracking him for a long time,” his coach said.

“I’m hanging in with school a little better,” he said.

These days, Tyler Hall is doing it. He’s playing everyday at third base, the only Chippewas player to start every game this year. He’s hitting everyday, leading the team in batting average. He’s fielding at a new position. He’s an offensive catalyst in a familiar position.

And right now, in the first season in Mount Pleasant, the junior infielder is smiling.

“Things are going good for me right now,” Hall said. “I think it’s just about timing.”

And the time is right for Hall, who has roughly eased his way into a role as the Chippewas’ starting third baseman, filling a hole left by James Teas.

Roughly, because the adjustment from shortstop – where he played his entire career previously – to the hot corner has been a work in progress, highlighted by bumps, bruises, a team-high 19 errors and a bad hop off the shoulder blade earlier this season in Las Vegas.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “It’s a big adjustment and I’ve been putting in a lot of hours on the field to get adjusted to it.”

Easily, because Hall has picked up right where he left off at the plate, following up back-to-back seasons of hitting over .400 at Grand Rapids Community College by leading the Chippewas in batting average (.344), slugging percentage (.480), on-base percentage (.461) and stolen bases (11).

Through 33 games, Hall is leading the Mid-American Conference in batting average for players with at least 120 at-bats.
“Hitting is the strong point of my game,” he said. “For me, personally, I thought I was going to hit a little better than I am now.”

Kyle Hall knew the time was right when his son was a sophomore.

“We could tell that he was the kid that was going to make it to the next level,” the former Rockford and current Sparta High School varsity baseball coach said.

So father called son up to varsity, where he served as the rock of Rockford’s team at shortstop, and a few years later stood behind the batting cage for one of Hall’s first practices at GRCC, when amidst the noise of baseballs ping-ponging over the fence, he heard the guy next to him say, “Wow, that kid’s pretty good.”

The guy was former major league player and Grand Rapids native John Vander Wal.

“That told me he was, in fact, pretty good,” the elder Hall said.

And during his time at GRCC, Hall was more than pretty good. His first year, he hit .481. His second year, he hit .482, becoming only the fourth player in history to earn first-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honors in two consecutive years and earned a trip to the Netherlands as part of the NJCAA USA Baseball All-Stars.

“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said of competing against teams throughout Europe for a month last summer.

And it was an experience he would have missed had the 5-foot-10, 170-pound infielder kept his grades up in high school, which delayed his introduction to the MAC by a couple of years.

“School wasn’t really my thing in high school,” Hall said. “In high school you don’t think grades really have an affect on your life.”

But they did and even a good senior season academically couldn’t pass the cut to a four-year school, so he stayed at home while Chippewas head coach Steve Jaksa stayed in pursuit.

“He kept in contact with me and my parents,” said Hall, whose two older sisters also attended CMU. “I love the campus but coaching had a lot to do with it.”

And during the fall of his first year at GRCC, he committed.

“We knew that in high school, he was going the junior college route,” Jaksa said. “And we knew that he could hit. Fortunately enough, he wanted to come here so it was a good match.”

Hall may or may not be the smallest guy on the Chippewas roster – he thinks freshman infielder Pat MacKenzie has him by an inch – but on the field, he could be the team’s biggest force.

“I’m hard to play against,” he said. “People hate to play against me because I do the little things.”

He’s excelled at the high school level, in junior college, overseas and now at the Division I level.

“I think I lucked into a good situation here,” he said. “It was definitely good timing.”

He’s a junior that’s still improving, still learning a new position and new pitchers, trying to get his Division I batting average closer to that of his junior college seasons of yesteryear.

“What’s the biggest difference?” he wondered aloud, between the two levels.

“Probably the timing.”

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