SAN FRANCISCO -- Ask Gabe Kapler why Mark Hallberg was the right choice to take over as the third base coach when Ron Wotus retired and you'll get a thoughtful list of traits. Kapler likes that Hallberg prepares extraordinarily well and does a great job of understanding the state of a given game. He is a good decision-maker, and in high-profile spots, he is able to stay calm.
But for the real reason why Hallberg was the perfect fit, you might have to go back to his high school career.
Wotus was sneakily one of the best athletes in the organization. Drafted as an infielder, he was also all-state as a basketball player and all-New England as a center forward on the soccer field, where he held a Connecticut state record for goals for more than two decades. Hallberg grew up in Wisconsin and might have actually exceeded that resume.
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He hit .455 in high school and went without a strikeout in his final two seasons at Barron High, while also posting a 0.80 ERA on the mound as a senior. Like Wotus, he was a soccer star, scoring a state-high 45 goals as a senior, and he was also all-state in basketball. But Hallberg added a fourth sport, winning state medals in tennis, as well.
Hallberg says now that tennis was his best sport growing up, but it didn't take him long to gravitate toward baseball.
"For some reason, I fell in love with baseball at the age of six," he said on Monday's Giants Talk podcast. "In 1991, the Twins won the World Series and Kirby Puckett hit a big home run in Game 6 against the Atlanta Braves. I saw that on TV, I remember waking up early, and from that moment I was like, 'I want to do that one day.'"
Hallberg ultimately made it to a big league coaching staff at the age of 34, joining Kapler as an assistant coach. On the biggest and most diverse staff in the big leagues, his backstory might be the most fascinating.
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Hallberg was born in Saudi Arabia and spent his childhood living in different countries in the Middle East as the child of international school teachers. He spent summers back in Wisconsin, where he turned into such a good baseball player that he was drafted out of Florida State by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hallberg reached Triple-A before retiring because of an injury, and as he worked his way up the minor league coaching ladder, he also spent winters teaching in Dubai.
Oh, and along the way he happened to be college roommates with a young man named Buster Posey.
"He was just another person, and we hit it off right away," Hallberg said. "Similar values, family values, and I'm very thankful for our friendship to this day."
Hallberg was so good at shortstop back then that it helped expedite Posey's move behind the plate, and years later the two were reunited in the same organization. Posey was the face of the franchise, and Hallberg was the young minor league coach who continually impressed front office executives.
When Kapler took over after the 2019 season, he brought in nearly an entirely new group, but Hallberg was promoted from A-ball manager to the big league staff. Two years later, he was an easy fit when the Giants needed a new third base coach, and through three weeks he has shown why.
The third base coach job in San Francisco has been in the spotlight for over a decade, first with Tim Flannery excitedly waving runners and later with Wotus taking over at the end of the longest coaching career in franchise history.
Hallberg found himself right in the middle of the action on Opening Day. When Austin Slater hit a double into the left field corner against the Miami Marlins, he moved down near the plate and sent Darin Ruf around third for the winning run.
It was a thrilling moment, and one that showed Kapler he had made the right choice.
"Those big moments, the decisive moments, the best in the game are really good in those moments," Kapler said. "Rather than get overly amped up and panic, it just kind of sharpens our focus in those moments. I think that's what happened with Mark. He was just completely locked in. It was a big moment, Opening Day, and he was able to stay under control and make a great decision for the club."
When Kapler hired Hallberg to replace Wotus, he said "nobody is going to prepare better." Hallberg has been aggressive in his sends, and at some point he will get a runner thrown out in a big spot, as all third base coaches do, but through 19 games he has been just about perfect in his decision making.
He has looked right at home in the third base box at Oracle Park, and that probably shouldn't be a surprise. Hallberg has spent his entire life on different fields and courts, but he always knew that he wanted to end up in a Major League ballpark.
"The first time I was ever in a big league park I was distracted by everything else but the field, and the second time I saw the diamond more clearly," he said. "Now I see the game more than everything else that's going on, but it definitely is special when you do glance up from time to time and you see all the people that come out to support us. That's really special."