It was just five years ago that a fresh faced 23-year-old left-handed pitcher by the name of Brad Halsey was wearing New York Yankee pinstripes, seeing his first big league action in what looked to be a promising and long career.
Today, Halsey finds himself wearing the pinstripes of the Long Island Ducks, a member of the eight-team independent Atlantic League.
Citibank Park, the 6,000 seat stadium Halsey now calls home, is roughly 50 miles from Yankee Stadium, but light years away for a once-promising pitcher struggling in what may be his last chance to get back to the bigs.
Before he ever got to Yankee Stadium though, Halsey pitched for the Trenton Thunder back in 2003, making 15 starts and sporting a 7-5 record with a 4.93 ERA.
“It was definitely an adjustment going from A-Ball to Double-A at that time,” said Halsey, who was drafted in the 8th round by the Yankees in 2002.
“I definitely enjoyed my time there, and made some good friends there.”
More than just friendships, Halsey took away some knowledge that would help him as his career progressed as well.
“Trenton was a place where I started to refine my pitches, particularly a breaking ball,” Halsey said.
“I’ve never had a very good slider, but it improved there out of necessity. Going there and being mostly fastball-changeup with a bad slider, it became somewhat necessary to work on that pitch.”
One year later, Halsey found himself playing for the New York Yankees, going from crowds of five or six thousand to fifty and sixty thousand.
“It was awesome,” Halsey said.
“It was everything I imagined it would be, and then some. It was quite an experience going there. The first day, I wasn’t actually on the roster until the day I was going to pitch, so it was kind of a whirlwind experience, just getting on the bus and meeting my manager for the first time, and all my new teammates, right there.”
Somewhat oddly, it isn’t any one moment from the mound that Halsey takes with him from his days as a Yankee. Instead, it’s a moment at the plate.
“My first Major League at-bat, I got a hit and ran through first base on a soft liner to left field,” Halsey said.
“All my teammates in the dugout were laughing their butts off, because it was probably the funniest thing they’d seen anybody do in a while.”
Perhaps making the feat all the more impressive was that it was off of Hideo Nomo, whose delivery had mystified many a position player over the years, no less pitchers.
“If I remember correctly, I believe he was out of the windup,” Halsey recalled.
“I just told myself that he’s probably going to throw me a fastball. And he threw me a two-seamer with just a little bit of movement. I’ve got a pretty slow bat, so I’ve got to cheat to get to it, but I did. And I got that soft liner to left.”
The Texas native wouldn’t get too many more chances to pad the Yankeeography, as he got dealt to the Diamondbacks as part of a multi-player trade that netted the Bronx Bombers a future Hall of Famer in Randy Johnson.
The following year, he was traded again, this time to the Oakland Athletics.
Halsey said there were some pretty major differences between the Yankee way and the “other way.”
“Every organization has a particular way of going about their business,” Halsey said.
“When you’re with the Yankees, it’s extremely business like. Guys don’t necessarily show up any earlier, but when they get to the ballpark, they get right to work. Where Oakland is more of a polar opposite of them. There’s guys coming in the clubhouse early, but hang out, play cards and joke around a lot. It’s a far looser atmosphere. They can both be condusive to winning, it’s just kind of a fit in where you fit in type of thing.”
That 2006 season in Oakland would be Halsey’s last in the big leagues to date, and it was punctuated by giving up Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run*, which tied him with Babe Ruth for second all-time.
If fans know Halsey’s name for anything, it’s likely to be that. But he says it doesn’t play much of a role in his desire to get back to the big leagues.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say that particular moment is a driving force to get back,” Halsey said.
“It’s more an internal drive, knowing what I’m capable of, and knowing that I haven’t reached my full potential yet. That’s my primary motivation.”
Halsey started the 2007 season in the A’s organization, but went down early in the year with a shoulder injury that was eventually diagnosed as a torn labrum. Essentially, it’s put him where he is now.
“It’s definitely set me back two years; 12 months of nothing but rehab,” Halsey said.
“It’s been almost two years now, and I’m still not where I was. But I do see other ways that I can still improve. So I can’t say how big of a setback it was, because I haven’t overcome it yet.”
Physically, Halsey says, he has overcome. Mentally, however, is a different story.
“He’s got a good, quality arm,” said Ducks pitching coach Dave LaPoint, a member of the 1982 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
“At first, we got him and he was worried about coming back from the surgery. Is he going to get the velocity back? Is he going to get back to full health? It’s taken him a while to believe that it is all there.”
Released by the Dodgers in spring training, the Texas native is 3-5 with a 5.86 ERA in 11 starts for the Ducks, walking 27 batters and striking out just 26 in 58.1 innings of work.
Independent baseball, after all, is the lowest link on baseball’s food chain. Halsey knows this. But he also knows he’d be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring if it didn’t exist.
“This opportunity, it means everything to me,” he said.
“Without this opportunity and this league and others like it, the only other option would be to hang out and play in a men’s league, which I’ve done as well. After being released by Oakland, when I was in a rehab program throwing at 100 feet, it makes it difficult to pursue your dreams. It’s just a roadblock, and you have to find another way around it.”
Despite the questionable numbers with the Ducks this season, Halsey is a known commodity who could be a valuable asset to an organization at the Double-A or Triple-A level.
“He’s still young and he’s left-handed,” LaPoint said.
“He does have a live arm, and he’s got four good pitches. His fastball is 87, 88, 89 when he’s on, and everybody can use that. If he can roll off three or four good starts and there’s somebody here watching him, he could get taken.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com