By David Willis
---- — LOWELL — Noah Hall insists he is not haunted by falling just short of reaching the major leagues.
“I really am not bitter about never making the majors,” said Hall. “There was a time I couldn’t deal with retiring and had to keep playing. But when I left I knew it was over.”
Hall played 16 seasons of minor league baseball, calling 19 different cities home over 1,543 games from the heights of triple-A to the depths of independent baseball and everywhere in between in pursuit of his dream of reaching the big time.
But after reaching the end of his playing career following the 2011 season, Hall is now pursuing his lifelong passion for coaching, in his first season as the hitting coach for the Lowell Spinners.
“It was a long road,” he said. “I had over 5,000 minor league at-bats. That’s a decent chunk to figure things out. I had great seasons and I had some pretty bad seasons. I feel like I can draw on those experiences and teach them. I feel like coaching is my calling. Maybe some day I will coach in the majors.”
Hall was a two-sport star at Aptos High School (Calif.), as an outfielder in baseball and a running back in football (1,282 rushing yards as a senior). But he elected to follow his first love of baseball when he was selected by the then-Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) in the 27th round of the 1995 draft.
After a solid first season in Vermont (.273 average, 45 RBIs), he broke out a season later when he hit .316 with 11 homers and 90 RBIs between two levels of single-A, earning him Expos Minor Leaguer of the Year honors. But the following season, at high single-A, he fell to just .236 with 49 RBIs.
“I think I went into that season a little too confident and I just stunk,” he said. “I also think I worked out the wrong way. I was humbled that season. But that is part of playing baseball. I feel that can be an experience I can use to teach.”
He bounced back the next season, between high-A and double-A, hitting .278 and driving in 64 runs. But he ended up being released by the Expos.
“I was 23-years-old and I was bouncing around,” he said. “I ended up playing independent baseball, and that had its own struggles. I always felt like I was one team away. I needed one team to give me a chance.”
After a successful stint with the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League, he was signed at the tail end of the 2001 season by the Cincinnati Reds, where he spent the rest of that season and all of 2002.
He resigned with the Expos before the 2003 season, and saw a career resurgence, hitting .307 with 10 homers and 70 RBIs. That was followed by one-year stints at various levels of minor league ball with the Blue Jays (2004), White Sox (2005), Orioles (2006), Yankees (2007) and Seattle (2008). His best of those seasons was a tremendous 2005 when he hit .332 with 26 homers and 92 RBIs with single-A Winston-Salem.
He returned to independent ball for the 2009 season, but during the year he was resigned by the Yankees and spent the rest of the season at double-A
“They picked me up when (current Yankees center fielder) Brett Gardner broke his hand,” said Hall. “That was the first year I didn’t play every day and it really opened up my eye to the reality I was probably not going to make the major leagues. I was 32 years old and really starting to contemplate my future.
“I knew I wanted to coach, so I put together my resume and started to send it around to teams. But I decided to give playing one more shot.”
With the independent Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League in 2010, a team that also featured ex-Red Sox reliever Scott Williamson, Hall hit .281 with 10 homers and 68 RBIs.
“I ended the season on a crazy hot streak,” he said. “I made a big change with my batting stance and was just feeling great. I just knew I had to give it one more chance.”
He remained in the Atlantic League, signing with the Camden Riversharks, and was even better, hitting .285 with 15 homers and 64 RBIs for the 2011 season. But as the year wore on, he began to question his future.
“After a while, I started to wonder if I was being selfish trying to play,” he said. “I wasn’t making much money in independent ball, and I had no health insurance, which is a big deal. You are just playing for the love of the game there, and the love of my family is more important.”
Hall then began exploring coaching options, first talking to friends in the Washington Nationals organization he knew during the franchise’s time in Montreal.
But them came a call from Fenway.
“(Red Sox director of player development) Ben Crockett gave me a call,” said Hall. “I wasn’t expecting anyone to call me. Someone had moved on and they had a spot open. We had a meeting in Boston, and I think it worked out well.”
After a year in the Gulf Coast League, he moved to Lowell this year and he feels his many peaks and valleys will be a major plus as he teaches the young players.
“Every baseball player has his ups and downs,” he said. “You have to know how to handle them and not panic. I was always a hard worker. I didn’t have the prettiest swing, but I had the work ethic. I feel like the best coaches are the ones you are a little afraid of, but that can also relate to you. It will be fun to work with these guys, that are really infants as players, and see them grow.
“I will always remember my time playing in the (New York-Penn League) as my first experience in real baseball. It was a great experience. I want these guys to have the same kind of experience. I love what I do and I feel like what I went through in my career, good and bad, can make me a very good resource for the guys.”