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Hale finds complements for Texas heat after years of struggle

By Kirk Bohls

Beau Hale
Photo: Jim Vasaldua

AUSTIN, Texas–Beau Hale was burning the midnight oil and then some for his last two final exams, his hardest exams. In physical education and advanced basket-weaving? Hardly.

Try micro information systems and upper-division accounting.

But then, the Longhorns righthander isn’t your run-of-the-mill Texas student or student-athlete. The junior has been dominant this season, throwing a no-hitter and going 11-4, 2.98 with six complete games to help lead the Longhorns to a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 Conference and a regional bid.

All his studying earned him a spot on the Big 12 all-academic team for the second consecutive season. His 3.45 grade-point average includes only one C in college, in economics.

He may be the family brain, but he’s not even its best pitcher, relatively speaking. That distinction belongs to Corrie Hale, who threw six no-hitters for her Little Cypress-Mauriceville girls’ softball team.

"And she finished her career with more than 1,000 strikeouts," her big brother said admiringly of his sister, who will pitch for McNeese State next fall. "She’s such a dominating force."

Takes one to know one. Few pitchers in the Big 12 have been as overpowering as Hale, who had 105 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 121 innings. A 22nd-round pick in 1997 by the Yankees out of Little Cypress High, Hale figures to go about 21 rounds higher this year.

Delayed Dividend

Hale’s big season has come as something of a surprise. Texas pitching coach Burt Hooton wasn’t able to harness the raw talent in Hale’s first two years in Austin and was replaced this season by Frank Anderson. Hale says he is just learning how to profit from Hooton’s teaching. He wasn’t polished enough to put into practice what he learned from the former Dodgers pitcher and wasn’t mature enough to know how to set up hitters and hit his spots.

In his freshman season, Hale can still remember a mammoth home run he gave up to Iowa State that cleared Disch-Falk Field’s 20-foot-high Green Monster in center field. The final pitch of his rookie season at Texas also ended up on the wrong side of the outfield fence, bringing his first year to an abrupt, unfulfilling conclusion.

"We got swept (by Oklahoma), and my last pitch was a bomb," Hale said. "My season ended on a bad note. It was awful, like a bad dream."

His second season offered little more success. He threw across his body, which hurt both his velocity and his control. He entered this season 2-5, 6.39 for his career despite a fastball consistently clocked in the mid-90s.

His turnaround started with a strong summer in 1999. He went 3-2, 3.86 in the Cape Cod League and was ranked the league’s No. 9 prospect. He then turned closer for the Dallas Phillies and saved four games–including the championship game–at the National Baseball Congress World Series. He allowed one hit in eight innings

For the record, he prefers starting. "Closing’s a lot of fun, too, because you can go out and fire it up," Hale said. "But I love that one-on-one battle."

Hale built on his breakthrough summer. With some tinkering last fall from Anderson, he lowered his arm angle and added a nasty slider and occasional changeup to his 96-mph fastball.

By changing his arm slot and opening up his front side, Hale has added sinking action to his fastball, resulting in more ground balls for one of the best infield defenses in the Big 12. He’s become a very fluid pitcher with an easy arm action.

"The slider can be a strikeout pitch for him," Anderson said. "And the changeup will too, eventually."

Hale’s excellent stamina and conditioning have kept his velocity constant, and he gets stronger later in games. As late as the ninth inning of an April start against Baylor, he was clocked at 96 mph. He threw a half-dozen pitches as hard as 98. No college pitcher threw as hard this spring.

"My Lord, that’s about as good as I’ve ever been around," said Anderson, the former pitching coach at Texas Tech. "We give him a hard time because he’s not a great athlete. God just gave him a gift to throw a baseball almost 100 mph."

Smart And Fast

Hale works fast, almost always gets ahead in the count and pitches smart–just like you’d expect from a guy who finished seventh in his high school graduating class of 263 and never made a grade lower than A.

"He pitches to win," Texas coach Augie Garrido said, "not to light up the radar gun."

Fortunately for the Longhorns, he’s done both. Hale and senior lefthander D.J. Jones have given Texas its first pair of 10-game winners since 1995. "If he doesn’t have a year like this," Anderson said, "we’re in trouble."

Texas still might be because of a one-dimensional offense that has only one player, sophomore first baseman Jeff Ontiveros, with any power. But a staff led by Hale, Jones, closer Charlie Thames and lefthander Phil Seibel, who is slowly returning from a serious elbow injury, gives the Longhorns a chance to advance far in the postseason.

Whenever Texas plays its last game, Hale will probably take off his Longhorn uniform for the last time. Every major league team has dropped by for a visit. Anderson said scouting directors, general managers, even an owner or two has stopped by to take a peek.

"Hopefully, I’ll pitch till my arm falls off," Hale said. "My goal right now is to win for the University of Texas. After that, we’ll see. I’ve always been an Astros fan, but I’m not sure I’d want to pitch in Enron Field. Maybe they could go back to the Dome."

Just one more sign of Hale’s intelligence.

Kirk Bohls covers the Longhorns for the Austin American-Statesman.

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