South Jersey Sports Report: Longtime Millville Baseball Roy Hallenbeck Coach Steps Down
Baseball, more than any other game, is about numbers. There are statistics these days that even the most hardcore baseball fans don’t even understand, sabermetrics that can take a masters degree in mathematics to figure out. The numbers don’t lie when it comes to longtime Millville High School baseball coach Roy Hallenbeck. He has 330 wins and is one of just 25 coaches in South Jersey history to reach that number, won five Cape-Atlantic League championships in his 21-year career, captured the 2011 South Jersey Group 4 title and led the Thunderbolts into the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic title game in 2010.
Hallenbeck — one of the most respected baseball coaches in South Jersey — announced on Monday, after speaking to his team and the Millville Board of Education, that he’s hanging up his spikes. He missed his first game ever last spring because of a college visit trip for his son, Kevin, and his daughter, Megan, is a junior in high school and beginning the college search now, so he wants to devote more time to his family, he said.
“It came down to — and this is something I know usually happens to coaches when their kids are younger — but it came down to my kids. We just moved my son into his first year at West Virginia University and my daughter is an 11th grader, so she’s going to start the college selection process. I realized that while Kevin was looking during the last couple of years that it was getting harder and harder. We needed to be at open houses, some of the schools he was looking at were 5-to-8 hours away, we were taking weekend trips to see these places, and it was getting hard. Last spring I missed my first game in 21 years and there was just no avoiding it, no getting around it. We needed to be at Morgantown on the same day (Millville) had a game, and I had to choose. That whole trip it was eating at me that our guys were busting their butts playing a game and I wasn’t with them. I knew that with what Kevin was going through and with what Megan was going to go through soon, that wasn’t the last time that was going to happen, and I can’t in good conscience not give all of myself to something that’s been so important to me,” Hallenbeck said Monday night in a phone interview with Glory Days. “I still plan on being involved in baseball in some capacity, just in a way that is a little more flexible and maybe just not in the dugout while I’m going through this time with my kids. Guys like us, we don’t turn it off, it’s inside of us. So, there’s no stepping away completely. But it came down to me asking my players to do something that I wasn’t able to do, and that’s commit 100 percent. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror and do that.”
“My family could tell and there were a lot of discussions. It’s been a slow process with us as a family. My son, who played for us last year, is an engineering major at West Virginia and he texted me ‘good luck’ because he knew I was meeting with the (Millville players). He knew and he completely understands, and so does the rest of my family,” he said. “It was hard, it really was. The connection you have with these kids and all the things you share throughout the seasons and offseasons. Being a teacher in the building and seeing these guys on a daily basis, (telling the players) was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Not that I was questioning or second-guessing the decision, but just to look them in the eye and reassure them that they would be OK, and that I wasn’t leaving them. I’m still going to be there and offered to help in any way I can. I just need to step away and let somebody else come in and be the boss, but I told the guys if they ever need anything, I’m right here.”Hallenbeck said he has been considering stepping down for a while, but having to miss a game last spring was the breaking point. He asks for 100 percent commitment from his players, so he doesn’t think it’s fair if he can’t be there every single day.
Hallenbeck is only the third baseball coach at Millville High since 1972, following in the footsteps of Tony Surace and Jeff Trout, father of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim star Mike Trout, perhaps the best player the school has ever produced and a 2009 graduate. Hallenbeck has been known throughout the Cape-Atlantic League as a fierce competitor who always had his teams ready to play, and said he valued the opportunity to go up against so many other dedicated coaches and teams throughout his career.
“I’ve had a lot of guys reach out and I know it’s cliche, but I’ve always believed this — the opinion I hold the highest when it comes to whether or not I’m doing a good job is the guys on the other side of the field in that other dugout. Those are the guys who know, the guys who are going through the same things day in and day out,” Hallenbeck said. “If you had to pin me down and say you can only get respect from one group of people, who is it going to be? I would say the guys who I go to battle against every day, because they are living it, too. I’ve had some great things said to me and it’s very humbling, and appreciated to know that’s how opposing dugouts feel.”
As for who takes over the position next, Hallenbeck’s advice is pretty simple: don’t try to do too much, be yourself and trust in the program.
“The truth is, and I hope this comes out right, that’s what I would caution them against is putting their own stamp on anything. The way I finish that sentence is, I didn’t put a stamp on (Millville baseball) either. Since 1972 there have been three coaches — Tony Surace, Jeff Trout and myself. I was fortunate that those two guys allowed me to succeed them. When I came in, I was able to realize that the program did not need fixing. What it needed me to do was stay out of the way and let these kids play, and hopefully I was smart enough to do that,” he said. “Whoever comes into this program, and any young coach coming into an established program, don’t feel the need to try to fix everything. Sometimes things aren’t broken. Just hold the wheel with a nice, steady hand and guide it in the right direction. That’s all we did. I know people like to say we did more than that, but it all goes to the kids who are there every day. It’s the easiest job in the world when you have kids like that, just stay out of their way, let them be successful and guide them when it’s needed.”
Hallenbeck will now be able to spend more time with his wife, Kim, and his kids as they navigate high school and college, but he’ll always have a special place in his heart for the blue-and-orange uniform of the Thunderbolts.
“I’m very proud. This program was an elite program when I took over, so I was fortunate at that time to be handed a program like this, and hopefully we did our best to keep it at that level. Just to be linked to that level of program, I’ve always been proud of that,” Hallenbeck said. “I’ve always been proud of the schedule we play. I always tell people, whenever we play these big-time schools, come watch pregame. Not just us, but watch them, too — watch St. Augustine Prep, watch Cherokee, Washington Township, all these schools. I was always proud of the quality of play on the field on both sides, and it’s meant a lot to me to be competing against the highest level of baseball the state has to offer.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays