According to Webster’s Dictionary, heaven is described as paradise, nirvana and the promised land. The opposite of that is identified as a place of eternal fire. During the years of 1976 and ’77 Weston High School enjoyed both Heaven and Hale.
You may notice that, although it is pronouned the same as the opposite place of heaven in the biblical sense, the latter is spelled differently. That is no misprint. In this case, this is the last name of the person who made the two words that are diametrically opposed in the world of religion, synominous when being applied to Louisiana High School Baseball.
In reality, Mark Hale, who is being inducted as a member of the Jackson Parish Sports Hall of Fame (JPSPHOF) Class of 2022 is remembered as in both senses. Ask anyone what it was like trying to hit against the author of the best single season in Jackson Parish prep baseball history and they will quickly tell you it was H – E – double toothpicks. Ask anyone who was a teammate and they will tell you it was Hale who led the Weston baseball team to the most hallowed ground in prep baseball and started what is still today the best dynasty of spring sports in Jackson Parish.
“He was the man,” said fellow JPSHOF member Phil Cockerham, who had the fortune of playing shortstop during the two years Hale dominated opponents on the mound. “Playing in the field was easy when Mark was pitching. Nobody hardly ever made contact. The most action I got was from throwing the ball around the infield after he struck the batter out.”
Hale pitched at a time before there was a JUGS gun that measured how fast a pitcher threw the ball. General consensus among those who played with and against the burly flame thrower is that easily his pitches were in the high 90 mile an hour range at the least. A Hale pitch was the epitomic descripiton of the adage “you can’t hit what you can’t see.”
According to best friend and battery mate, Leamon “Peanut” Stewart, the rocket like offerings was almost impossible to hit and just as hard to catch.
“Mark threw the ball so hard all I could really see was this little dot coming at me,” laughed Stewart.
It wasn’t only that Hale had a fastball that was so fast it looked like a pea, it had constant movement on it which caused his buddy much pain.
“In between innings I would have to spray ICE (chemical agent that was used in those day to numb the pain) on my hands just so I could catch him,” recalled Stewart. “It came so fast and had so much movement, I hardly ever caught one of his pitches in the webbing.”
As an example of just how hard Hale threw, Stewart relayed the story of before Weston was to play in the Class C semi-finals their senior year.
“He was warming up before the game behind the bench and started to shower down on his throws,” said Stewart. “He wound up and chunked one and the next thing I remember was Coach (Mike) Staples rubbing cold water on my face.”
Hale had thrown the pitch so hard that it broke through the webbing and smashed into Stewart’s eye.
“Our backup catcher that year was in the eighth grade and everytime Mark would pitch to him he would knock his mitt off his hand,” continued Stewart. “I had to catch that game with one eye closed shut.”
Hale’s pitching stats in 1977 is still unrivaled in Jackson Parish prep baseball history. In eight starts Hale compiled a perfect 8-0 record, with four no-hitters. In just 59 innings he struck out 99 batter, which equates to 1.67 batters per inning. He ended the season with a 1.90 ERA but take out the game which he tried to pitch while suffering from the flu where he gave up 8 earned runs, his ERA drops below 1.00 per game.
His fastball wasn’t all that Hale had going for him either. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing around 260 pounds with thighs the size of tree trunks, Hale was a most imposing sight. Added to that was the “mean streak” he pitched with. If you managed to get a hit off him the next time you came up you were the one most likely to get hit. Ever got hit by a ball thrown 100 miles an hour. OUCH!
In 1976 Hale pitched Weston the the Class C state semifinals, which at the time was the furtherest the school had ever advanced in any sport. One year later Westson beat Simsboro for the schools first state title. It started nearly a decade long run of greatness that included three consecutive state titles (1982,83,84) and three more state runner-up finishes (1980,81,86).
Hale pitched collegiately at East Texas Baptis College for a short period of time, but It is a shame that he came along when he did. In those days, it was rare that a player from a school the size of Weston got noticed by college or pro scouts. In today’s world with all the social media capabilities available, there is no doubt that he would have been coveted by everyone at every level.
Sadly, in 2017 died at the age of 58 years old from multple myeloma, which is a cancer of mature plasma cells in the bone marrow. While his life was cut short, the legacy he left will last forever.