Jim Hallman stands behind a protective screen in a batting cage at Holiday Park in West Des Moines on a hot July morning. Hallman teaches Valley High School sophomore softball player Claire Long a hitting lesson. He prepares to sneakily throw him through an opening in the screen but stops dead in his tracks.
“You see,” Hallman said. “You are well placed there. »
Hallman broke down and dissected Long’s swing. During this session, Hallman wanted to see how Long is set up just before the pitch is thrown. He likes what he sees. So Hallman regroups, resets and throws a pitch that Long throws into the net.
“I really enjoy working with him,” Long said. “He knows his stuff.”
When it comes to baseball and softball, few know more than Hallman, a 59-year-old Urbandale native who played baseball at Dowling Catholic and Grand View. Hallman then coached at Northern Iowa and is now the Vikings’ pitching coach.
Hallman has become a living legend in the Central Iowa baseball and softball community for his tireless work with athletes of all ages. He has worked there since 1987.
At the time, it was a side job. But Hallman loved it so much that he walked away from coaching and opened his first Grand Slam USA, an indoor training facility with batting cages, in 1994. This gave Hallman an opportunity Perfect for passing on knowledge to children.
He’s worked with young kids, high school players, college athletes, and even minor leaguers.
“I love building relationships,” Hallman said. “I take it very seriously.”
The only significant time off Hallman had was in 2004 when he battled throat cancer. But even then, Hallman was determined to teach. Hallman briefly worked with a chemotherapy bag strapped to him that was attached to a PICC line.
“I was sitting there saying, ‘You know what, since I can move around and I’m not tired of this, I’m going to,'” Hallman said. “Well, the problem was that the chemo didn’t hit me until everything was in my system. So that night I couldn’t barely move because the chemo had wiped me out.”
Hallman’s family took over the business while he was away for about nine months. Hallman missed working with the athletes and returned as quickly as he could. He hasn’t stopped since.
Hallman’s hard work includes long days that often start as early as 6 a.m. He will book time at the office and then travel to Grand View during the season for a few hours. After that, Hallman is back to give lessons, sometimes until 11 p.m.
He also works weekends but takes time for his family and goes to church on Saturdays. If anyone wants to learn from Hallman, they take the time.
Hallman said: “I always say to kids, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this. If that doesn’t happen, it’s either your fault, or my fault, or God’s fault. Either you don’t understand what I’m getting across or I’m not doing a good job of getting it across or the good Lord hasn’t given you the ability to do so. So I’m going to make sure I exhaust every measure I have to make sure it’s not my fault.”
Hallman said he averages about 50 hours a week teaching classes. Children came from all over the state, from as far away as Iowa Falls and Mason City. Hallman typically starts with 10-year-olds.
What drives it forward? The relationships he has built with the athletes. He talks with players about their swings and skills, and he bonds with them over other life lessons he can pass on.
So many players have come and gone that Hallman can’t even estimate how much he’s worked with over the years. Some have gone on to successful academic and professional careers. A few bring their own children for lessons. Hallman said it got to the point where some wondered if they could bring their grandchildren to him. That’s why he’s opening a new spot in Urbandale later this month.
In the meantime, Hallman scours the fields of the Des Moines area looking for a place where he can teach a lesson. As long as he has the time and an athlete has the will, he is ready to work with them. That’s why, even after losing a lot of weight and most of his voice due to his battle with cancer, he keeps going.
“I love helping kids improve their skills,” Hallman said. “I love the relationship with the kids. I take great pride in teaching them as many life lessons as we do on softball/baseball skills.”
Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports entrepreneur and featured reporter, has worked at the newspaper since 2008. He is Iowa’s 2018 and 2020 Sports Writer of the Year. Join it at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
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