Former Penn State baseball player Jim Haley had a summer quite different from most college students entering their senior year.
He’ll cap it off starting Sunday when his team — the Hudson Valley Renegades — takes on the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League championship series. The best-of-three set begins at Hudson Valley before games Monday and, if necessary, Tuesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Tampa Bay Rays selected Haley in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB draft. On June 16, Haley signed with the Rays and was assigned to their minor league affiliate, the Renegades.
The Upper Darby native, like most players in the league, stayed with a host family for the summer since the Renegades are based out of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., about 80 miles north of New York City. Many young players find this difficult, but Haley had experience living with host families during college summer ball.
“The transition from college to pro ball went really smoothly for me. Playing at Penn State really prepared me for where I am right now,” said Haley, who got his first professional hit in State College in his second game with the Renegades. He was 6 for 13 with two extra base hits — including an RBI triple for that first pro hit — in the three-game series in June, the only time the teams met this season.
Although Haley landed on his own two feet in the minor leagues, he admits there were some things to which he had to grow accustomed.
“Traveling in the minors was definitely something I had to adjust to,” he said. “Compared to traveling just weekends at Penn State, you’re playing every day and traveling at least twice a week in the minors. That’s all part of the grind though — having to travel through the night and play on a short night’s rest.”
Competition in the minor leagues is a step above what players are accustomed to seeing at the college level as well.
“In the New York-Penn League, you see a lot of pitchers that were just drafted out of college, but you also see a good amount of top prospects. So it’s a high level of competition,” Haley said.
Of the 146 games Haley played during his three seasons at Penn State, he started 143 of them at shortstop. With the Renegades, he has been at an unfamiliar position — third base.
The switch didn’t seem to bother Haley. He started 65 out of 75 games with a .285 batting average, seven doubles, three triples, a home run and 19 RBIs, and was a mid-season league all-star. His 70 hits for the season was second-best on the team and ranked sixth in the league.
“My goal coming into pro ball was to take it one day at a time and enjoy the ride. So far I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” said Haley, who also stole 13 bases out of 20 attempts. “I have an awesome group of very talented players and coaches around me so it’s been fun being able to learn from them. Even at this point in my career, there’s always something new to learn and to take away from every day. I think that’s a huge part of progressing as a player.”
Haley is not enrolled at Penn State this semester but plans to return in the near future to finish his degree in recreation, parks and tourism management.
Matt Castle is a Penn State journalism student.