- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

When Beau Hale was the 14th overall pick in the 2000 draft after a sparkling college career at Texas, he thought there would be many days like Saturday, and that by now he would be spending his days in Baltimore as an established member of the Orioles’ rotation.

Instead, Hale tossed six shutout innings of relief for Bowie at Prince George’s Stadium. He scattered four hits and struck out five, and looked very much like the pitcher who was once considered a key to the Orioles’ future after the organization gave him a then-club record $2.25 million singing bonus.

But Hale’s baseball journey has been far from a fairy tale. After splitting time between Class A Frederick and Class AA Bowie in 2001 and 2002, Hale’s shoulder started hurting and wouldn’t stop between outings. First, he tried rest to no avail. Then he underwent rotator cuff surgery, but six months later something still wasn’t right.

There was scar tissue building in his shoulder so he had a second surgery. Hale did not make an appearance in a game for more than two years.

“You expect basically going into surgery that they’re going to fix it and you’ll be back in four or five months,” said Hale, a right-hander. “After six months, it hurt worse than it did before. There was a lot of negative coming out of it so I had the second surgery. The rehab was grueling and long and brutal, and after two full years of not competing you get frustrated.

“The best thing is to just try and stay positive. It is hard to do, but you have to keep jumping over the hurdles that life puts in front of you.”

Once one of baseball’s top pitching prospects blessed with a blazing fastball, Hale went from dreaming of facing major league hitters to dreaming of facing anybody. He had several setbacks during his rehab process.

“You go through a throwing progression that takes about three or four months,” Hale said. “It is a flat-ground, long-toss progression and right when I would be ready to get on a mound I would have a setback. It would hurt again and there would be cortisone shots and MRIs, rest for two months and then do it again.”

Hale’s shoulder was finally healthy enough for him to resume his career last season. The Orioles played it safe and had him pitch in small doses out of the bullpen for Frederick. Late in the season with the Keys, Hale was allowed to start five games and had some success.

This season began back with the Keys, but he was promoted to Bowie last month and the results so far have been encouraging. He has 1.93 ERA in 14 innings for the Baysox and he has 27 strikeouts and only six walks in 35 innings between the two stops.

“As long as there is a hitter in there and an umpire and a crowd after all that I have been through,” Hale said. “I didn’t mind relieving last year and I haven’t minded it this year. Obviously I’d like to be a starter, but I am 27 now. I am not a 22-year old prospect anymore and I realize how the business works. Anytime there is an opportunity for me to pitch, I’ll be there whatever it is.”

Hale is living with fellow Orioles farmhand Rich Stahl. While they have never been on the same team together until now, it seems as though their careers have been linked. Stahl was a first-round pick out of high school in 1999, and both have dealt with high expectations and careers derailed by injury.

“We’ve been through a lot of the same things. It is real frustrating to go through something like that,” Hale said. “He is a good friend and one of the people that I am closest to in this organization.”

He doesn’t blow hitters away with mid-90s gas, but Hale’s fastball still sits in the 89-91 mph range and he can touch 93 on the right night. He also will start for the first time this season tonight against Portland.

Despite the injuries and the setbacks, Hale still has hope. Those days pitching in Baltimore he dreamt about several years ago could still become a reality.

“I am not one of their top guys anymore or a young prospect, but I’d like to open some eyes,” Hale said. “At least give it a shot — maybe at big league camp next year. I think that would be good for me.”

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