After spending more than 30 years working in Major League Baseball, either as a player or a coach, it would be easy to assume that there might be an adjustment period for Chip Hale as he begins his first job in college baseball as Arizona’s head coach.
But, speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon at Arizona’s official preseason media day, the baseball-lifer and Wildcat legend played that acclimation period down.
“Baseball is baseball once we get out there,” Hale said. “There hasn’t been much of an adjustment, just more fun.”
When asked if evaluating players is different in college than in the pros, Hale went on to explain that he doesn’t really think so, and offered a reminder that he has plenty of experience dealing with younger players.
“I’ve managed teams in rookie ball with 16-year-olds,” he said. “Evaluating talent is evaluating talent when it comes down to it,” he said. “One thing you’ve got to remember is that our youngest player that we feel like our starting nine is going to have is (almost) 21.”
Hale went on to praise the facilities and technology at his disposal here in Tucson, likening them to the tools he had available to him during his time in MLB.
“We have an unbelievable administration that helps us, so that has not been an issue,” he said. “We have, I think, the best weight room for Olympic sports in all the NCAA. We have just as many analytics and ways to get them as the big-league teams. We have all the numbers, spin rates, everything that you need to get. It’s the same stuff I used at the major league level.”
According to his new players, Hale’s time in the major leagues has already been beneficial to the squad since he has come to town.
“It’s really cool,” projected starting shortstop Nik McClaughry said. “Especially with him being an infielder. The biggest thing that he’s emphasized this year is we’re going to catch the ball and throw the ball a lot better than we did last year. I think we were a really good offensive team last year, but I think that defense was something we can totally improve on. And in our preparation for the season we’ve done a lot of just working on defense and different situations so that we’re better prepared.”
Added preseason All-American catcher Daniel Susac: “I feel like last year we did some fielding, but I feel like this year it’s more detail-oriented in warmups, which leads to a more smooth and even more efficient fielding practice. What I like a lot is in practices we will do a lot of situations. Infield, outfield, hitting balls in the gaps, little relay drills, trying to raise to see which team can win. I like just making the most competitive atmosphere practice every day.”
With the 2022 opener against Kansas State in Arlington, Texas just a few days away, Hale’s impact on this consensus top-25 Arizona team will soon be put on display.
Almost ironically, Hale will coach his first-ever collegiate game in a big league ball park, the same one he was in as an assistant with the Detroit Tigers when Arizona hired him in July.