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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Former Wildcat once again close to reaching major league dream

    Former Wildcat Chip Hale, the manager of the Tucson Sidewinders, signals instructions to his squad Aug. 26 in the Tucson Toros 6-0 win over Tacoma, Wash., at Tucson Electric Park. Hale helped the Wildcats to their last baseball national championship in 1986, never missed a game in his collegiate career and led the Sidewinders to the playoffs.
    Former Wildcat Chip Hale, the manager of the Tucson Sidewinders, signals instructions to his squad Aug. 26 in the Tucson Toros’ 6-0 win over Tacoma, Wash., at Tucson Electric Park. Hale helped the Wildcats to their last baseball national championship in 1986, never missed a game in his collegiate career and led the Sidewinders to the playoffs.

    Nothing says more about Chip Hale than what he says are the top three moments of his life: getting married, having kids and winning the 1986 College World Series for the Arizona baseball team, the last UA baseball squad to win it all.

    Outside of his family, baseball is life.

    Hale, now the supercompetitive manager of the Tucson Sidewinders, is working his way back up to the majors – this time as a manager – after playing parts of seven seasons as a utility infielder mostly for the Minnesota Twins and hitting .277 for his career.

    “”When you get back into it with player development, your goal is to have a job here and teach kids, but also to get back to the major leagues, get some time and challenge yourself at the highest level,”” Hale said in his office last week, a day before the Sidewinders clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history. “”At some point, I’d like the opportunity.””

    After spending parts of 10 years of his playing career in the minors, he took two seasons off before starting with the Diamondbacks’ organization in 2001, working his way up from rookie ball Missoula to AAA Tucson with stops in AA El Paso and as Arizona’s Minor League infield coordinator in between, only once fielding a losing team.

    “”When he retired from being an active player, they were standing in line waiting to give this young man a job coaching in the minor leagues,”” said Jerry Kindall, his manager at Arizona. “”He has come up the hard way, but never wavered.

    “”This guy is a rising star in the managerial ranks, and he demonstrated that when playing for the Wildcats as early as his freshman year.””

    The Wildcat Ironman

    For all of Hale’s accomplishments at Arizona – and there were many – none stands out to Kindall more than the fact that Hale never missed a start in four years.

    From his first game as a freshman to his last as a senior from 1984-87, Kindall penciled Hale’s name in every single game, 255 straight in all, both records for total and consecutive games in Arizona history.

    “”I’m not a coach that plays anybody out of being a personal favorite,”” Kindall said. “”He has to perform. He has to be the best player. With that kind of intensity and dedication, he played with a bad ankle or some kind of injury that would have taken another player out of the lineup.””

    But that’s only the start.

    Hale also holds Arizona career records in seven categories, including hits (337), total bases (507) and walks (162), and ranks second in four more, including runs (246) and extra-base hits (101).

    Still, nothing stands out more for him than the 1986 national championship team, which Hale said went on an “”incredible run”” after not being sure if they would even make the regionals at one point in the year.

    “”We were blessed enough to be able to win that thing,”” Hale said. “”It was an incredible time because I think if you’re good all year it’s sort of expected, but we really struggled for awhile. Once we got it back together, the guys took advantage of the opportunity we had.””

    Said Kindall: We wouldn’t have won it without Chip Hale. I could say that about a half-dozen others, that team wouldn’t have won a national championship without them. Chip is one of that group.””

    Hale was also voted as an Arizona co-captain for both his junior and senior years, which Kindall said is a rare occurrence.

    “”He was the kind of guy I wanted up at the plate with the game in the balance,”” Kindall said. “”He was invaluable (and) led the team in many, many big ways besides the title of co-captain, which players voted on. He had inspired confidence in them.

    “”Guys looked up to Chip and followed his lead.””

    Although Hale could have been a quality college manager – “”He knows the game so well and is a great motivator, so he would have done very, very well in college,”” Kindall said – as a professional manager in Tucson, he still feels close to the Wildcat program.

    “”I’m excited about what Andy Lopez has done,”” Hale said. “”They’re only going to get better. Last year was a tough year for them, but they’ll be back, and they’ve definitely brought that Wildcat pride back.””

    Hale in the minors

    If you could say two things about Hale as a manager, it’s that he fights for his players – which former Sidewinders infielder Andy Green said is the best thing about him – and that he is passionate about winning.

    But that doesn’t mean he’s always on the best of terms with his guys, especially for those playing in their first year under Hale, who doubles as the third-base coach.

    “”He’s a little hard to get used to at first only because you want to learn his motives,”” said Scott Hairston, an outfielder who has played four seasons under Hale and thus is now used to the skipper. “”He doesn’t get on you because he doesn’t like you, he gets on you because he wants you to do well and he cares about you. Once players figure that out, it’s fine.””

    Hale has used this style to compile a 405-317 record (.561 winning percentage), including a Tucson franchise-best 91-53 this past season on his way to winning the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year award (he also won the same honor in the Pioneer League in 2001).

    “”I think (Hale) gets the most out of his players,”” Hairston said. “”He’s a ‘rah-rah’ type of manager, and he makes sure his team is prepared first and foremost, and he’s always spitting out information of what he knows about the game. He keeps you on your toes the whole time.””

    Interestingly enough, he’s the opposite of Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, who Hale worked under as Arizona’s third-base coach to start the season when Carlos Tosca was out with a foot injury, getting his “”cup of coffee”” in the big leagues.

    Hairston, who has played under both managers this season, said that despite their differences in style, they both are honest men who just use different techniques.

    “”Chip’s going to get it out of you any way possible,”” he said. “”There’s not one certain way that Chip uses to get the most out of his players, but I think in a way that they’re very similar. They’re very knowledgeable and honest, and that’s what you look for in a manager. That’s what players appreciate.””

    Hale has patience, discipline and passion, Sidewinders owner Jay Zucker said, which helps him with his differing agendas: winning in Tucson and developing his players.

    Further complicating matters is that he’s got a mix of players, some of whom are big leaguers sent to Tucson temporarily, others are young guys on the verge of breaking into the majors and more still are at the end of their professional careers, hoping for just one more shot at the majors.

    Green, who was in the first category on a rehab assignment after spending most of this season with the Diamondbacks, said Hale does his job in what matters most to Arizona: player development.

    “”He gets us prepared and takes it personally if we go up there and make a stupid mental mistake,”” Green said. “”He takes responsibility for that, knowing he should have taught us that, knowing he has taught us that. It’s just great to have him.””

    Getting to the big leagues

    By now, Hale is plenty used to life in the minor leagues and awaiting his big league call-up.

    “”He has the experience and the expertise. Just like a baseball player needs to have talent, he has talent as a manager,”” Zucker said. “”He’s just like the rest of our players where some of them should be on major league teams or rosters, (but) they’re not because of timing. He’s in the same crunch.””

    Said Kindall: “”The next step logically, not predicting, the next step is for a guy like Chip to be a coach in the big leagues for somebody. The step after that is managing. In my heart I believe that will happen for Chip.””

    As Tucson begins play in its first playoff series ever as the Diamondbacks’ affiliate, starting its best-of-five first-round series tonight at 6:30 p.m. against Salt Lake at Tucson Electric Park, Hale has enjoyed his finest season as a manager.

    Not only did the Sidewinders win more games than any previous Tucson squad, but he also graduated a wave of players to the Diamondbacks, including the likes of star prospects Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin and Chris Young.

    “”When you promote a player, that’s the best thing you can do,”” Hale said. “”That’s where they want to be. Even when we’re doing well and we’re on a roll, those guys would rather be in the big leagues.

    “”That’s just the way the game is and the way it will always be. That’s our job, to get our prospects better, and I think we did that this year, and hopefully they develop in the big leagues.””

    The only question is, will their former manager soon join them?

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