When your father is a former Major League Baseball player and in charge of hitting for the San Francisco Giants organization, the question is often asked. 'How has your father influenced your hitting?'
"Basically, it's an everyday question for me," said Hailey Decker
, who has signed to play at Nebraska following her June graduation from McNary (Keizer, Ore.)
. "He's built me as a player. As I'm getting older I now recognize all he did. I'd be nowhere without him."
Her dad is former Major League Baseball player and minor league manager Steve Decker. He also is the director of hitting for the San Francisco Giants. He is not your normal softball parent ... he is a professional hitting coach. Steve teaches the likes of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to become better hitters.
"When I develop a hitter we focus on three things - mechanics, emotion and vision," Steve said. "It's the same with (teaching) Hailey. If I put together a test on hitting, she would ace it."
Steve said the key to good hitters is believing in their swing and being predators.
"Yeah, he says I'm a predator," said Hailey. "I'm sure others have better mechanics, but I'm more mentally prepared because of my dad. He's taught me to know my plan and be mentally tough. We work a lot on seeing the ball. Hitting is an attitude."
And Hailey has a great hitting attitude. She knows every hitting drill imaginable.
She was named Oregon's Class 6A Player of the Year as a junior when she batted .642 with seven doubles, five triples and eight homers for an imposing 1.254 slugging percentage. She scored 40 runs and had 43 RBI in 27 games as McNary's shortstop.
As a sophomore, Hailey hit .538 with a 1.077 slugging percentage, had six doubles, 13 home runs, 45 RBI and scored 42 runs in 30 games as McNary reached the state semifinals.
She has been walked intentionally three times with the bases loaded. Hailey's on-base percentage this season is approaching .800.
In 21 games, Hailey is hitting .650 with 12 doubles, three homers, 30 RBI and has scored 32 times. Her slugging percentage is better than 1.400, and she's averaging a walk per game.
McNary coach Jeff Auvinen says "she hits for average and power, something you don't find too often. She has unbelievable power, but can also bunt and run. She has a line-drive swing. She hits the ball hard everywhere."
Auvinen says Hailey "is our catalyst. When she hits, we hit." Against crosstown rival Sprague (Salem, Ore.) on May 8, Hailey went 4-for-4 and the team pounded out 14 hits in winning 15-5.
On the national level, Decker was one of 42 athletes invited to try out for the U.S. Junior National Team in the spring of 2010. Decker was one of the youngest players invited.
The elder Decker said what makes Hailey such a good hitter might also be a drawback.
"Her emotion sometimes gets in the way," Steve said. "She needs to be patient and stay within her (hitting) zone."
That makes it difficult when opponents walk her more than they give her opportunities to hit.
"It is very frustrating," Hailey said. "I hadn't experienced that before. I want to hit so bad, I started getting frustrated. But I talked to my college coaches, and they said it was good for me. Don't get too greedy, have good pitch selection, and it was going to help me grow. I now take a walk as a compliment."
Auvinen said walking Hailey is "like giving us a run."
"If I get on, I steal second, so it helps the team," she said. "I'm getting better at it. I'm just so driven."
The drive to be an athlete started early for Hailey. With All-American parents (Steve in baseball and mom, Maite, in volleyball), it was just a natural course.
"I didn't realize what dad was doing when I was young, but I understand now. He was building motor skills when I was 3 or 4," Hailey said. "He'd throw me nerf balls and I would dive on the couch and catch them. We'd do this over and over."
Steve said it didn't matter what sport Hailey would play, "we tried to develop those motor skills early."
She's been around baseball all her life. When Steve managed the Giants Class A team in Keizer, she was the team's bat girl.
"It just gravitated from there," Steve said.
"I started working on my swing when I was 4 or 5," said Hailey, who has a 3.78 grade-point average with plans to study sports nutrition at Nebraska.
But Steve is quick to point out that he is not "a clone coach. I did not teach her to swing like me.
"The goal in creating any hitter is to see how strong they can be at impact," he explained. "When you control impact position you will have power to all fields. It's kinetic length balance to core impact."
Simply put, "body weight transform power. It's timing and weight shift," he said.
Hailey said she has spent so much time on her hitting and refining her skills that she can "pretty much" hit the ball where she wants … when she wants.
"I can take an inside pitch and hit it to second," said the right-handed hitting senior, who has a home to first time of 2.78 seconds. "Situational hitting is my strength."
Steve is quick to add that "most people don't see how much time Hailey puts into her game. She lifts weights daily, she hits daily and she has a running program. She's a competitor. She is so strong for her size."
Hailey learned from Steve at an early age, it is "what you do away from practice that separates the level of success."
But getting to their point of successes - hitting coach and dad working with hitting standout and daughter - hasn't always been easy. Just ask Hailey's mom.
"It's been a work in progress for both of them," Maite said. "I've watched the two of them come to this good place of understanding. Both are intense and both are Type A personalities. They both have become open in listening to one another."
Maite noted, "If I wasn't here, they would have killed one another."
Steve and Hailey spend a lot of winter time working on fundamentals of the game, but because of Steve's schedule with the Giants, he rarely gets to see Hailey play. He had never seen her play a high school game until this season.
"That makes it hard in a lot of ways," he said. "She's on her own during the season. I can see - and fix - anything, but if I'm not there ..."
But Maite is there to assist.
"Mom has taught me the mental side of the game," Hailey said. "She has taught me to accept failure and how to deal with my emotions. Mom has taught me how to learn from my failures and move forward."
Hailey was the same regardless of what sport she played and before settling on softball, she played them all.
"Softball is it. I just love it. It's a sport of failures," she said. "Thus there is such a feeling of accomplishment. When you accomplish it, it is truly an accomplishment. It's an individual sport within a team sport.
"I love pressure. It's exhilarating for me to be at bat and we're down by two with two out, two strikes and bases loaded. That's my zone."
While she plays shortstop for McNary and second base for her summer 18U Gold team (Northwest Bullets), Hailey isn't sure where she will play at Nebraska.
Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle said, "She is a highly skilled player who will make a noise loud and early in this program. She is a strong and fast player who plays the game one way...all out."
"I'll do whatever they want," Hailey said. "I'll be their biggest motivator if that's what they want."
Perhaps Hailey can even offer some tips on hitting.