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Published: Sunday, 6/22/2008

Former Mud Hen nests in Toledo

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer John Wagner talked with Joe Hall, who played for the Mud Hens in 1995 and '97.

For former major leaguer Joe Hall, Toledo has become more than just a stop in his baseball career.

It is home.

A native of Paducah, Ky., who played at Southern Illinois University, Hall's professional career began in 1988 when he was selected by St. Louis in the 10th round of the draft. The Cardinals traded him to the White Sox in 1991, and he eventually made it to the big leagues with Chicago in 1994.

But the White Sox released Hall before the 1995 season, and he signed with Detroit. He spent most of that year with the Mud Hens, hitting .320 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in 91 games. Those numbers were good enough to earn a promotion to Detroit, and he played in seven games with the Tigers.

He signed with Baltimore and played in Rochester in 1996 before returning to the Tigers organization the next year. In 1997 he played in 75 games for the Hens, batting .251 with six homers and 30 RBIs.

He also earned one more shot at the big leagues that year, playing in two games with the Tigers. In his final game with Detroit, Hall went 2-for-3 with a two-run single and an RBI double to finish his major-league career with a .319 average.

The next season Hall signed with Texas but spent his time with Oklahoma City. He spent the rest of his career with teams in Taiwan, Mexico and independent leagues before becoming a coach. He served as a manager, hitting coach and roving instructor for the Expos, Cardinals and White Sox organizations before moving to this area.

He served as a volunteer coach at St. John's Jesuit in 2007 and as an assistant at Southview this past spring. He also serves as a batting practice pitcher for the Mud Hens when they play at home.

Hall currently lives in Sylvania with his sons, 13-year-old Joe Jr. and 10-year-old Grant.

"I GREW UP IN the small town of Paducah, Ky., and we had a lot of big-league players come out of that town - Phil Roof, Gene Roof, Ed Haas, Steve Finley, Terry Shumpert and myself. And we had a couple of other players who played in the minor leagues but just didn't make it to the big leagues. It was great that there was a lot of talent around, but we all came through the same American League program that combined the best talent from all the area high schools. We played all summer, and we played against the top talent from our area as well as top teams from California and everywhere else. It was a good program.

"YOU CAN'T GET to the major leagues without being drafted, so that definitely was a big thing for me. Growing up, the St. Louis Cardinals were our area team, and I grew up watching them, so it was outstanding to be drafted by those guys. That first trade was tough, because my dream was to play for the Cardinals. When I finally managed for them in the minor leagues, I would tell people that I might have a different team's uniform on, but I always had a Redbird under my shirt next to my heart.

"ALL DURING MY career I had people tell me I should wear uniform number 26 because I always was the 26th man on a 25-man roster. I think about five different times I was [a major-league team's final cut]. In 1994 I watched the White Sox make a move to get rid of a backup infielder, a backup outfielder and their third catcher in one day - and those were all the things I did - to leave 26 guys on the roster. It was the last day of camp, and nobody had told me anything. I went to our GM, Ron Schuler, and asked him what was going on, and he told me that they were putting Steve Sax on the DL to make me the 25th guy. That almost brought tears to my eyes. It was a great feeling. And the best feeling was getting to the big leagues that first day - that's when it hits home, when you're in that stadium, see all those people, and take that first at-bat."

"THE BIGGEST MINUS [of playing with the Hens] was playing in that old ballpark [Skeldon Stadium] and not getting to play in this new one [Fifth Third Field]. When I was released by the White Sox in spring training of 1995 [it was tough] because I had just gotten married and had a son born in March. It worked out great to come here because my wife at that time was from here so we stayed with her mom and dad. That was probably my best year in baseball because I had my wife, my newborn son, we have live-in babysitters. I had a great season, I was hitting great.

"SIGNING WITH DETROIT was a great organization for me. They gave me a chance, called me up in 1995. In '96 I signed with Baltimore and had a good season - I made the Triple-A All-Star team with Rochester - but I didn't get called up. Those things, you can't control them. Then Buddy Bell came to Detroit and I re-signed with Detroit - that's how much I liked Detroit. Coming back to throw batting practice for [the Mud Hens] is a way to say thanks. Glenn Ezell, Detroit's farm director, was my manager here, and Gene Roof, now the outfield instructor, took over when [Ezell] got sick. The people who are still around, like [Mud Hens manager] Larry [Parrish], who was a roving instructor and then was Buddy's bench coach, are guys that all treated me great."

"ONCE YOU START seeing stuff like [playing] in Mexico and independent ball and Taiwan and stuff like that, you know. But you know that [baseball's] not going to last forever. I thought I still had some gas in the tank, but at that time it was more of a family [issue]. It was going to work out better for me financially - you need this amount of money to get by and survive, but you're earning that amount, so you leave Triple-A to go overseas. It was mainly a financial decision. Somebody wrote in the paper about me leaving the team in Oklahoma City and it being bad, because I was an important part of that team. It didn't have anything to do with the team - it was a financial decision.

"BUT IT STILL wasn't easy [to leave]. When you're in the minor leagues, with a family and kids and all the travel, it's tough. I've seen people still doing it now, and it's still not an easy thing. A lot of times people don't see those things. And it gets worse when you've played for a number of years, and then it's over. What do you do now?

"WORKING WITH HIGH SCHOOL kids [as opposed to minor leaguers], there's a lot more teaching involved. I compare it to spring training, where we had young kids coming from high school or the Dominican. We would instruct them from 9 o'clock to 12 o'clock from April until June. That's not being done in high school. It's like, 'Let's stretch, get loose, let's hit, let's throw.' I try to teach and instruct, but you don't have the time you'd like to have. I try to teach the stuff that works. I want them to be successful at the high school level, but also the college and professional levels, too. I watch certain things - say, how people take infield - and I try to teach how it's done in the major leagues. This game has been studied for years and years, but sometimes you see guys in high school trying to reinvent the game. I tell kids to watch teammates and other players, because you can learn more from watching.

"I LIKE DOING the high school stuff, but I'm not sure I'll be as involved this [coming] year as I was last year. It's a long season - you start in December, but it goes to June. It takes a lot of time from family and kids. If I do it, I'll have to do it more as a volunteer, like I was at St. John's when I wasn't at every game, than the way I did last year, when I was at every game. I do enjoy it, though, especially for the kids who want to get better and put the effort into getting better."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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