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How Forest Park graduate Charles Hall went from Panera to the oldest pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft

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Charles Hall arrived at the Harvey Baseball Academy in North Carolina with one thought: Make this moment count. It was late July, 2015 and the right-hander was there to convince head coach Paul Rozzelle and pitching coach Kris Harvey he belonged on Catawba Valley Community College’s baseball roster.

If he succeeded, he was on his way. If he failed, there was no backup plan. Only a sober realization.

“I knew this was my last chance,” Hall said.

Outside of an adult league, he had not pitched in an organized game since his senior year at Forest Park. That was three years before this day.

Hall attempted to pitch at Anne Arundel Community College (Md.) after graduating from high school in 2012, but never did after he became academically ineligible his first season. Instead of staying at school, he returned home and worked at a Panera in Woodbridge for three years as a cashier and food preparer.

His then-girlfriend urged Hall to give baseball one more try and here it was: a standard 30-minute bullpen session tossing between 20 and 25 pitches.

Hall’s effortless pitching motion, effective breaking ball and lively fastball impressed Rozzelle and Harvey. They offered him a roster spot right then as a walk-on.

That’s all he could ask for. The rest was up to him as he attempted to make up for lost time.

There were opportunities to walk away again, but Hall refused to give up. Instead he removed the rust, learned his craft and matured into a pitcher good enough to set a Division II record for single-game strikeouts, lead the nation in strikeouts and become a 33rd round pick by the Oakland A’s on June 5, the last day of the 40-round Major League Baseball First-Year Draft.

Of the 1,217 players drafted, Hall, at 24 years, nine-months old, was the oldest one selected. But age didn’t matter now. Opportunity did.

“I believe in second chances,” Rozzelle said. “I was a second-chance guy, but I’m not a big believer in third chances. That second chance was in front of him and he held on.”

A WORK IN PROGRESS

The emails kept coming. Hall estimates he sent Rozzelle at least eight in the hopes of securing a tryout.

At first, Rozzelle ignored them. He’d built his roster by recruiting high schoolers or accepting transfers from Division I or II schools. It was unheard of for the then-second-year head coach to add a player with Hall’s background, especially for a team coming off a third-place finish in the junior college world series.

But Hall persisted and Rozzelle relented, realizing there was no harm in checking Hall out. Rozzelle asked Hall first for video of him pitching, but none existed. Rozzelle then told Hall he’d have to travel to him. Hall agreed and they scheduled a meeting.

“He had a lot of moxie, but he believed he could pitch here,” Rozzelle said.

Hall chose Catawba since it was close to where his sister lived in Charlotte. Without enough credits, he had to select a junior college first before moving on to a four-year school.

He also chose the Red Hawks because of their recent postseason success and the hiring of Harvey as the pitching coach June 5, 2015. The son of former major-league all-star reliever Bryan Harvey, Kris Harvey starred at Clemson and was a second-round pick by the Florida Marlins in 2005.

Once Catawba placed him on its roster, Hall handled things from there, starting with financing his education. Hall’s grandmother paid for him to attend Anne Arundel, a school he chose since his older brother Conner played baseball there. Hall asked his grandmother again if she would pay for Catawba. But she declined. It was time for Hall to assume responsibility, something he understood. He took out loans and headed to North Carolina with his girlfriend.

He arrived as a work-in-progress. Growing up, he pitched in youth leagues and in 2005 he was the winning pitcher on his Dumfries-Triangle-Quantico 9-to-10-year-old Little League team that won the tournament of champions in a field of seven other state champions from the southeast. Fellow Oakland A’s minor leaguer and Woodbridge graduate Logan Farrar was also on that team.

At Forest Park, Hall displayed a dangerous breaking ball, but said he did not throw hard and had yet to grow into his body. As a two-year varsity player, Hall pitched some in relief and had key outings his senior season in helping the Bruins win the 2012 Cardinal District Tournament title and advance to the region semifinals.

But with Chris Colletti and Kyle Staats as the Bruins’ primary starters, then-Bruins’ head coach Sonny Moss took advantage of Hall’s versatility and started him in centerfield.

“He was so valuable,” Moss said. “For us, he was a game-changer.”

Hall arrived at Anne Arundel planning to return to the mound full-time as a starter. But his commitment to his grades was not as strong.

“I did not go to class,” Hall said. “I was young and immature.”

After leaving Anne Arundel following the fall semester, Hall competed in an adult men’s league. But he remained a project.

“It was a huge process,” Rozzelle said. “It was two years of absolute ups and downs, good days and bad days and everything in between. But he kept working.”

Hall told Catawba he could play outfield as well, but the coaches saw his talent and kept him as a pitcher by refining, and at times, overhauling his technique.

“I had not pitched in a real game in who knows how long,” said Hall, who finished his Catawba career third in career strikeouts (110), games started (19) and innings pitched (109.1). “They developed me into a pitcher instead of a thrower.”

Hall had one physical advantage in speeding up the learning curve. He’d never experienced any arm trouble, something he attributes to not pitching on a regular basis.

While coachable, Hall’s biggest struggle was mental. He needed to control his emotions when he failed on the mound.

“That was not good early on, but I give him 100 percent credit,” Rozzelle said. “Some players never learn, but he did.”

Hall wasn’t happy when Rozzelle moved him from the starting rotation to the bullpen going into regionals at the end of his sophomore season, but he accepted the decision. Rozzelle explained to Hall he was more beneficial to the team in relief with a fastball clocked as high as 91. The move also helped Division II Tusculum (TN) notice Hall at regionals.

“I told them if he figures out the mental side, he’s really good if he holds up his end of the bargain,” Rozzelle said. “And he did.”

Hall considered other four-year programs to transfer to for his final two seasons, but he liked Tusculum for its location, the coaching staff and the baseball facilities.

Tusculum head coach Brandon Steele, in turn, said he liked Hall’s competitiveness, his clean delivery, his fastball and breaking ball.

Hall began in the bullpen his first season, but kept improving to the point that he entered the 2019 season as the Pioneers’ clear No. 1 starter.

Hall’s comfort level only increased after a discussion with the coaching staff on calling his own pitches and mixing them up. Steele had confidence in Hall and allowed him to do that.

“He’s a very passionate and intelligent kid,” Steele said. “He’s very motivated and wants to beat people.”

Steele said Hall’s drive and intensity never rubbed his teammates the wrong way, even if it sometimes might come across as intentionally disrespectful toward them. They knew better, preferring to have someone fired up than someone lackadaisical in their approach. They also knew Hall wasn’t like that off the field.

“He’s not maliciously trying to show up anybody,” Steele said. “He wants to win. It’s great to have.”

He started off the 2019 season sharp, but his name-recognition really took off after he struck out 22 March 15 against Queens University to set a NCAA Division II single-game record. The previous mark was set in 1999.

Over 123 pitches, Hall totaled at least two strikeouts in every inning and struck out the side four times as he improved to 4-0 and increased his nation-leading strikeout total to 88.

“I knew the Tusculum record, but I didn’t know about the national record,” Hall said. “I was just pitching.”

DRAWING INTEREST

Even before his record-setting game, Major League Baseball teams noticed him.

He said he first attracted attention the previous summer after being named an all-star playing for Edenton of the Coastal Plain League. The interest grew this past season at Tusculum as he finished with a 6-3 record and 148 strikeouts (tops in the nation) and earned South Atlantic Conference Pitcher of the Year honors. His fastball averaged 90 to 91 miles per hour and his breaking ball locked up hitters.

But Hall also impressed teams based on data. For example, Steele said the spin rate on Hall’s slider rated higher than average.

“He passed the eye test and the math people for analytics,” Steele said.

After his season was over, he did two pre-draft workouts with the Texas Rangers (May 18th in Atlanta) and the Boston Red Sox (May 20th in Ohio). As an older-than-usual senior from a Division II school who stood 5-10 and had no negotiating leverage, Hall understood why teams had him low on their draft boards if they even listed him at all.

Still at least four organizations seemed the most likely destinations, making Hall optimistic of his chances going into the draft’s third and final day for rounds 11 through 40.

At the time, Hall was in his second week with the CPL’s Peninsula Pilots in Hampton. After helping to lay down the tarp on the field, Hall and his teammates went to the locker room to ride out the rain delay.

Usually Hall keeps his cell phone in his locker on game days. But he received permission from his manager to keep his phone with him during pregame warmups and in the dugout in case he received word he was drafted. He still had his phone inside the locker room when his advisor Michael Giorgio texted him with big news. Giorgio had spoken with the A’s, who informed him they were going to select Hall in the 33rd round with the 1,004th overall pick.

Five minutes later, Hall, with his teammates gathered around him, saw his name pop up on his phone through MLB’s online draft tracker. The celebration commenced. Hall was scheduled to pitch that night in relief, but on the advice of Oakland scout Anthony Aloisi did not. It was time to leave. The next day, Hall said goodbye to his host family and came home.

Hall was surprised Oakland drafted him. But Giorgio had a good relationship with the organization and encouraged them to select him.

“Honestly without him, I don’t know if I would have gotten drafted,” Hall said.

Hall’s connection with Giorgio began April 27. A friend of Giorgio’s who doesn’t work for him messaged Hall on Facebook and asked if he’d be interested in Giorgio’s services based on how well Hall pitched this season. Hall had no representation so he researched Giorgio, who is president of Trinity Sports Reps and Marketing in Altamont, N.Y. and has MLB and NFL clients. After talking it over with his father, Hall agreed to have Giorgio help him. Two weeks before the draft, Giorgio went to work.

“He has leverage with certain teams and has worked with them before so he put his name on the line for me, saying I was worth the time,” Hall said. “He just made sure teams didn’t forget about me.”

ON TO ARIZONA

As a late-round pick with no more eligibility, Hall gladly accepted the A’s offer of a $1,000 signing bonus and a plane ticket. He left June 9 for Arizona and signed the next day. He is currently playing in the minor leagues’ lowest level in the rookie Arizona League. In his pro debut June 20, Hall struck out the side in one inning of work.

On July 5, he was promoted to Double-A Midland and pitched one inning the following day, 

Hall understands the odds are against him reaching the major leagues. From 1981 to 2010, only 17.6 percent of drafted players who signed made the majors, according to Baseball America.

The study said the number increases to 73 percent if the player was a first-round pick, but drops to under 10 percent for players selected in the 11th round and beyond. But Hall is grateful for the opportunity and doesn’t forget where he came from.

Hall said he stays in touch through Facebook with some of his former co-workers from Panera. One in particular, Tony Thomas, whom he calls Charlie Rock, sends Hall messages telling him to keep believing.

He takes all that encouragement to heart. He turned his life around, even in the classroom where he was on the all-academic team at both Catawba and Tusculum. And now he’s playing pro baseball for a living, and he wouldn’t trade that for anything, even if it still seems a little unreal following a three-year layoff that almost led him down a different and uncertain path.

“I feel like that was a lifetime ago,” Hall said. “It’s a different part of my life. It’s crazy. It’s like I never stopped.”

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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(1) comment

Soily

Good luck, Mr. Hall.

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