From the moment that he began tossing a baseball around his backyard at the age of 4, Montezuma-Cortez High School sophomore Braden Hallman knew that he had found the game that he loved.
As a Little Leaguer on the fields at Parque de Vida, Hallman translated that love into success on the diamond, and now, at the start of his second year of high school, the talented backstop appears poised to become a star.
“The previous varsity catcher, (Travis Beeson), he was pretty good, so it’s a big spot to fill,” Hallman said.
“I think I’m doing pretty good at it.”
Sophomore learns from professional hurlerAfter his hopes of starring during his freshman season were crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of spring sports, Hallman initially felt as though he had lost a golden opportunity.
The pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the young backstop, however, when Colorado Air National Guard captain and professional baseball player Ben Yokley arrived in Cortez to assist Montezuma County in virus relief efforts.
Yokley, a 29th-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2015 Major League Baseball draft, starred in high school and as a member of the Air Force Academy’s baseball team, thanks to a powerful fastball and pinpoint control.
Upon arriving in Cortez, the Guardsman and professional pitcher, who spent two seasons in the Cardinals and two years in the minor leagues, knew that keeping his arm fresh and healthy would be vital if he hoped to continue his climb through baseball ranks.
After inquiring around the community about individuals who could assist him with his bullpen sessions, Yokley connected with Hallman, who, despite having never caught a 90 mph fastball before this summer, was eager to help and learn.
Over the course of numerous workouts, Hallman became accustomed to handling blazing fastballs and knee-buckling curves, while Yokley coached the young M-CHS catcher on how to keep his hands soft and receive pitches.
After about five weeks in the Cortez, Yokley completed his duties in Montezuma County and returned to independent league baseball.
Among the many benefits that came to Hallman as a result of working out with Yokley was an increased ability to recognize and handle curves, a pitch that the young catcher noted he did not see before reaching high school.
“Being in Little League, they don’t have that kind of pitching, especially with the curveballs, but I’ve caught on,” Hallman said.
Leadership qualities stand outIn addition to his workouts with Yokley, Hallman played with his high school teammates as a member of the Cortez Freedom Cats baseball team, which was formed by M-CHS coaches Tim Passell and Brett Likes to help players stay in shape.
Batting over .600 heading into last week’s game against the Shiprock Angels, Hallman not only has established himself as one of the area’s top hitters, but has also has emerged as one of his team’s leaders in spite of his young age.
“I’m kind of a positive person. I try to lift everybody up,” Hallman said. “I try to be loud in the dugout and encourage everybody.”
While Hallman admitted that handling pitchers and calling games is never easy, he noted that he strives to maintain a calm demeanor regardless of what is going on around him. “I try to get our pitchers to be consistent with their spots,” Hallman said. “Luckily, they all throw about the same except for Korie (Likes) – he’s a lefty.”
Although baseball-related activities have taken up much of his summer, Hallman has also worked for his grandfather, a mechanic in the Cortez area.
While Hallman, who his teammates and coaches have nicknamed “D1,” was humble when asked about his goals for the future, he said that he would like to eventually earn a college scholarship. Then, he offered advice to young players in the area.
“Play your best and give it your all every time, even in practice,” he said.
“Treat practice the same way you treat games and play hard.”