Halla looks to lead Vincent baseball back to playoffs

Published 11:09 am Thursday, March 3, 2016

Robbie Albright and the Vincent Yellow Jackets are looking to return to the playoffs under the direction of new head coach Ryan Halla. (File)

Robbie Albright and the Vincent Yellow Jackets are looking to return to the playoffs under the direction of new head coach Ryan Halla. (File)

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

VINCENT – Ryan Halla, the new head man of the Vincent baseball program, is getting back into his groove. The journey that has brought the ex-Auburn pitcher to the Yellow Jackets has been long and winding, but now that he has landed at Vincent, Halla is intent on leading his new group back to the playoffs after Vincent just missed the postseason a season ago.

Halla played his high school ball at Vestavia Hills in Birmingham before moving on to throw at Auburn from 1993-96. He pitched 89 total games in his career for Auburn, good for fifth-best all time at the school. Halla’s best individual season was in 1995, when he started 24 games for the Tigers, won 16 and threw 146.2 total innings, all of which are still school records, and earned All-American honors from both the American Baseball Coaches’ Association and Baseball America. His 148 strikeouts in that 1995 season are also fourth-best all-time at Auburn as well.

In 1997, he signed a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and spent time with both the Pirates and the Atlanta Braves, where he played AAA ball, before getting out of the game in 2002.

“It’s not all glitz and glamour,” Halla said of the life in the minor leagues. “144 games, it’s a long season, but it’s what I wanted to do. After I got done playing pro ball and it was like, ‘Alright, what do I do now?’”

It took Halla quite some time to answer that question. Coaching stops at John Carroll, Western Kentucky, Mountain Brook and Hoover all preceded Halla getting out of coaching all together to try his hand as an insurance and then a medical device salesman. After a four-year hiatus from baseball, he felt called back to the game, and started looking for jobs, which led him to Vincent, a town and a school he knew little about.

“Most of the people I know are from the Birmingham area,” Halla said. “Nobody said anything negative, but nobody really knew much about it. As a matter of fact, when I first got here, I hadn’t heard of a lot of the school we played, so it was starting from scratch for sure.”

Any trepidation Halla had regarding his unfamiliarity with the school immediately faded after meeting the administration.

“What people fail to see is the people we work for is really the best,” Hall said. “They have your back. And I could tell that when I interviewed.”

After Halla got settled, it was time to focus on baseball. This 2016 team has five seniors, which is a high number for Vincent, and two upperclassmen leading the way from the mound in Ethan Davis and Matthew Swift. Davis and Swift are the two top arms for Vincent, but a host of youngsters have thrown well early too, including Robbie Albright, DC Ayala and Cole Fincher. Albright, a freshman, along with Ryan Childers are leading the way for Vincent in the early going in terms of offensive production as well.

What Halla has brought to Vincent is something of a no frills, old-school coaching mentality, which he hopes will permeate down to his team.

“I’m big on getting on and off the field,” Hall said. “I’m big on looking right, I’m big on acting right and playing right. The right way of doing things takes care of a lot of other things. If my kids wear eye black its on their eyes. Sunglasses are on their eyes or in the dugout. Just kind of that approach.”

Through March 3, Vincent was 5-5 with four of those losses coming by a single run. This Vincent team has to figure out how to win close games, and time will tell if the Yellow Jackets can return to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year for the first time in four seasons. However, Halla has high hopes for this bunch.

“I’ve made the mistake in the past of not putting expectations on teams, not putting a viable, realistic, visual goal,” Hall said. “Our goal is to win a state championship. At first I didn’t know what to expect, but after the first week of playing some pretty good teams, I told our kids if we throw strikes, who knows what can happen.”