By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the process of making his college decision, Penn State alumnus Jim Haley was torn between two paths.
Haley was a star quarterback and free safety for Bonner and Prendergast Catholic High School in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. He fielded offers to play for Temple, Delaware, Villanova and others.
When he wasn't slinging passes and hammering unsuspecting receivers, Haley was on the diamond. Haley batted .459 with two homeruns and 26 RBIs in his senior season. He visited Maryland, Virginia, Elon, Richmond and Penn State for baseball.
Most high school athletes begin to focus on one sport as college recruiting gets closer. It's extremely rare to see athletes compete in more than one sport past high school, especially in two sports as time-consuming as football and baseball.
But Haley was an anomaly.
Haley was named MVP of the Philadelphia Catholic League in both sports in two separate years. He was also named the Philadelphia Inquirer Player of the Year in 2013 for baseball.
He had his choice: baseball, football, or both. Villanova offered Haley a spot on both the football and baseball team, which would be an accomplishment very few could mark on their resume.
After a grueling decision making process, Haley decided to follow his lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player by signing with Penn State.
Four years later, that dream has finally come to fruition.
"I went to college knowing that I wanted to get out of there in three years and get drafted," Haley said.
Haley accomplished just that. Following his junior season, the Tampa Bay Rays called Haley's name in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB draft. He was the first Nittany Lion since 2012 to be drafted.
"That phone call, all of that work that I put in from college back to high school and everything, all of those emotions just flooded me in that minute and a half," Haley said. "It was kind of surreal."
Haley was surrounded by his family and his girlfriend when he received the call of a lifetime. He said it will always be considered one of the best moments of his life.
Luckily for Haley, Tampa Bay sent him to their A-league affiliate in New York, the Hudson Valley Renegades. It wasn't too far of a trip from his home in Upper Darby, and his family was able to see a few games in his rookie season.
Haley even returned to his own stomping grounds at Medlar Field on a few occasions to play the State College Spikes. He recorded his first professional hit there on a triple to the wall in centerfield just like he was in Blue and White again.
"It was just one of those things you can't write up any better," Haley said. "Going back to your home field to get used to pro ball definitely made it a lot easier and made the transition a lot more comfortable."
That transition seemed effortless for Haley, who stayed on the Renegades all year without getting dropped down to rookie ball.
Haley batted .285 in his rookie year, which was the third highest mark on the team. He smacked 70 hits in 65 games, tallied 19 RBIs, and scored 27 runs.
Usually it takes players some time to get used to professional pitching, but Haley jumped right in with seemingly no issues. He was even named a starter for the NYPL league all-star game.
"Jimmy's a competitor," said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper, Haley's former skipper. "Moving into pro ball, that kind of challenge isn't something that scares him. He enjoys that. His swing can play with wood or aluminum, and he's got an advanced approach at the plate which allows him to have success."
Cooper said it didn't surprise him at all how much Haley was able to accomplish in year one.
Haley, on the other hand, was a bit more shocked.
Right after arriving in New York, Haley was asked by a reporter what it would mean to make the all-star team if he was able to do so. Haley laughed it off and said there's no way he'll make it, but it would be pretty awesome.
Self-confidence aside, Haley produced a promising rookie season. So
promising, in fact, that the Rays sent him to Florida after the season for
instructional league training.