Former Bella Vista pitcher Justin Haley is making a name for himself on the college level at Fresno State.
Haley, a sophomore, was 1-0 in nine appearances for the Bulldogs this season. His 2.51 earned run average was the third-best on the Fresno State pitching staff.
Haley is his hardest critic. He said his first season with the Bulldogs was average.
"It went all right, not entirely as planned. I had a little injury towards the middle of the season,” Haley said, “but I was able to comeback and do okay. All in all it went well.”
Haley graduated from Bella Vista in 2009. Broncos head coach Greg Olsen was Haley’s coach his senior year.
Olsen said he had one of the best work ethics of any high school baseball player he has ever seen.
“He was constantly working to get better and stronger. That definitely paid off for him,” Olsen said. “His senior year was really his first year pitching in high school and he put up some phenomenal numbers.”
Haley spent one year at Sierra College before transferring to Fresno State. Sierra head coach Rob Wilson described Haley as a good kid and ballplayer.
Wilson said he knew Haley would do well wherever he ended up after leaving the Wolverines’ program. He said Haley would only get better in time.
“Like any 19-year-old, he needs better command so that he knows where the ball is going,” Wilson said, “not that he walks a lot of people, but he’s a little inconsistent with his changeup.”
Haley said that was kind of him to say but he feels there is actually still a lot he needs to improve on.
“Everything from the mental aspect to my physical preparation. I hope to keep getting stronger,” he said. “My fastball command is getting better and I am always trying to improve.”
Haley said his time at Sierra gave him a better understanding of what he was going to face while with the Bulldogs.
“It made the baseball part a lot easier,” he said. “The competition was just another level above high school ball and it helped me strengthen my skills.”
Junior pitcher Charlie Robertson is another former Bronco on the Fresno State pitching staff. Haley said already knowing someone on the team has also made the transition from Sierra to Fresno easier.
He said it was wonderful to have Robertson as a mentor this season.
“It’s always a tough transition going from high school to college ball. Having a friend and someone you know that you can relate with right off the bat was a blessing to me,” Haley said. “It made the transition a lot easier and he was a good friend to me throughout the whole year.”
Haley was actually drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft but he elected to play college ball with the Bulldogs instead.
As a sophomore he must return to Fresno State next year but he will be eligible for the 2012 Draft.
Wilson said Haley will definitely be drafted by a major league team this time next year. It is in his DNA.
“If you’ve ever seen his dad, he’s a big strong guy like his dad,” he said. “His body is going to help him. He’s a big strong kid.”
He went on to say that Haley has all of the tools to do well in the majors.
“I’ve always said that,” Wilson said.
Olsen said Haley’s passion for baseball is going to take him a long way.
“Every time he was on the mound in his eyes it was his game and nothing could go wrong. He was in full control,” Olsen said. “With the gifts that he’s got, he can take them as far as he wants so long as he wants to work hard and stay dedicated. I’m sure he wants to do that.”
Haley said right now he is just trying to focus on next season with Fresno State.
“A big goal for me next year is to break the starting rotation and get a starting spot for myself,” he said, “as well as keep getting wins for our team and become a leader on the team.”
Haley said he was able to follow Bella Vista’s great 2010-11 season a little.
“I checked in here and there whenever I could and whenever I had time,” he said.
Haley said he always remembers where he came from. He said he has grown so much as a ballplayer and as a person since his time with the Broncos.
“The person I was at Bella Vista was a boy compared to the man I am now,” Haley said. “I have so many people I’d like to thank for that. Coaches, family, my time at Bella Vista gave me a good starting point to build on.”