Justin Haley can tell you all about pressure.
There’s the unthinkable version he’s familiar with from serving the Newburyport, Massachusetts community as an EMT during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s also the kind he endured as he went through the trials and tests to graduate from the Massachusetts Fire Academy this past February. There’s even the form that comes from following the family legacy set by his brother, a former paramedic, and his grandfather, a former EMT instructor.
But Justin Haley is also familiar with a type of pressure most of us will never know anything about. He’s one of only 19,969 men and counting to reach the majors. And thanks to a 4-game stint with the 2018 Boston Red Sox, he’s also got a World Series championship to show for it. So he knows what it’s like to defy the odds and earn his place on the opening day roster as a Rule-5 pick out of spring training as he did the season prior as a Minnesota Twin. He also knows how it feels to freeze an All-Star such as James McCann and walk off the mound like a complete boss.
He’s a man of multitudes. He’s also a GovX member.
In many respects, he also lived his dream. A dream that saw him forge an 8-year baseball odyssey that lead him from Greenville, South Carolina to Daegu, South Korea with stops in-between pitching in front of sold-out crowds in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. And as we here at GovX had the privilege of learning during a recent sit-down to discuss his career paths, life, and how he prepares to serve the community he calls home.
On the field or in the field, approach your training as a lifestyle.
Training to endure the rigors of a 162-game season or a 24-hour shift is a mandatory part of the job. For Justin, incorporating the proper PT into his day has something he’s come to embrace at no half measure. “I never trained to get ready for spring training” he explained, “It was just a lifestyle. It was part of my everyday routine, which has now translated directly into my new career. You’re training for the day in front of you. It’s a lifestyle that you lead.”
A somewhat understated aspect of both the worlds of public safety and professional sports is the importance of mental strength. You have to hone your mind to take the sour with the sweet, and be prepared to do your job the next day.
“Your mental skills have to be just as trained as your physical skills. You have have a short memory. Being able to compartmentalize failures or losses, the things that didn’t go your way, and have the strength to continue moving forward. That’s how you learn.”
The importance of teamwork, community, and tolerance.
A lot of intangibles go into a winning team. Many of which aren’t always visible on the surface. The former Red Sox saw it firsthand upon joining the roster of the eventual champs. “Being in that clubhouse was so much fun because you get to interact with people from all over the world. Teammates I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for baseball. The chemistry was real. And it showed me that if you’re confrontational, hard to get along with, or don’t take direction well it can lead to serious problems.”
As he transitioned from the clubhouse to the firehouse, the lessons learned from exposing himself to a diverse range of people thus far served him well in his new line of work.
“It’s all about being comfortable, connecting with those from different backgrounds and beliefs. Not just within the station but in the community as well. “
The drive to maintain focus and seek constant improvement.
With pitching perennially in high demand and with Major League experience under his belt, the Sacramento-native realistically could have continued his baseball journey here in the states or internationally. But for Haley, making the choice to serve the West Newbury, Massachusetts community he and his growing family have settled into was the right call on both a personal and professional level. “This is a platform people aspire to reach. If you can be the best of the best, it’s a competitive draw.” said Haley, “It’s about competing with yourself, but also lifting each other up. Trying to be our best selves.”
“Graduating from the academy was a tremendous feeling. I felt accomplished. I felt happy. But much like making it to the big leagues, I knew I had to bear down, get to work, maintain my skills, grow my knowledge, and never become complacent. I have to be my best self to protect my community.“
Keeping it in the family.
Hailing from a family of EMTs, it’s a miracle that Justin Haley wasn’t born with surgical scissors in his right hand. In fact, his grandfather has been an instructor for so long that both his mother and father have taken his class. When it came time to put himself in a position to grow as a public safety worker, he was more than ready to keep the family tradition alive by enrolling in his course.
“Me, my brother, my sister, we have all gone through it. Trust me, my grandfather did not take it easy on any of us. He actually enjoys the fact that he has an over 50% fail rate because he challenges people.“
Easing the transition.
In baseball, change comes with the territory, especially with pitchers. You may make the move from the rotation to the ‘pen because you don’t have the natural stamina to bring it for 100 pitches or 7 innings every 5th day. Or perhaps you pad your stats by neutralizing lefties and that makes you best suited for late-game situations. Nevertheless, there involves a certain degree of checking your ego at the door and allowing the powers that be to put you in the best situation to succeed. For Justin Haley, 2020 represented a transitional year. Only this time it didn’t come from the front office of a professional baseball team.
“2019 was the last season I pitched in. Spring 2020, COVID hit and we got shut down and the minor league season was completely wiped out. It was definitely a tough spot. It forced me to think of what was next. It made me go to something that was comfortable. I met my wife previously when I pitched in Class-A for the Lowell Spinners and just fell in love with the area. Once I was done playing, staying in West Newbury and initially working for an ambulance service as an EMT before pursuing my goal of becoming a fireman was the best option for me and my family.”
New career. New challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic tested everyone. As he spent much of the last two years abiding by the mandates, navigating through the struggles, and serving a community that leans to the older side, Haley had to be prepared for anything.
“A huge percentage of our calls are EMS. I’ve dealt with patients who were experiencing shortness of breath. We had to provide resuscitation during one call. The patient has been spraying some kind of pesticide when he lost consciousness. We showed up, started CPR immediately, gave a couple of shocks, and brought him back breathing on his own. He ended up being okay. “
Life through the lens of a first responder.
With three stops pitching in Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s historic McCoy Stadium, Haley took some time to recollect his experience in a facility that posed its own unique set of hazards to the local fire department.
“I definitely see hazards everywhere I go now, and identify ones in places I’ve been. McCoy was old, and nearing 80-years in age when I played there. That building had a sprinkler system on the first floor, but with a lack of hydrants close by, you’d need a second engine to stretch from the first engine to the street. The labyrinth-like design would lead to a lot of tactical ins and outs like that. Plus you’d have to take into account the indoor batting cages, the clubhouse, and the concrete and cement-poured construction.”
Part World Series ring. Part conversation-starter.
As the recipient of a 2018 World Series Ring from his time with BoSox, Haley proudly keeps his prize close by, which has aided him during his ventures selling real estate and won him some points in the eyes of his chief as well.
“I’ve shown it to some of the guys at the station. I sell real estate too, so I’ll bring it with me to closings and show some of my clients, they get a kick out of it. Obviously the chief sees it. It’s got my name, number, and my autograph engraved on the inside it.“
As we neared the end of our conversation, it became evident that Justin Haley’s journey is still in the early innings. His story will extend far past what’s on the back of his baseball card, and his service and efforts will not go unnoticed.