NEW BRIDGEVILLE — Fear is sometimes the greatest motivator in a man’s life.
That certainly has been the case throughout the long and successful career of Conrads shortstop Travis Hake.
At age 42, Hake continues to excel at a high level — a level that players half his age could only hope to achieve.
A 27th-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers out of Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee, back in 2000, Hake still loves the game he’s played ever since he was a teenager.
So what has been the key for Hake?
“I just don’t want to embarrass myself,” Hake said Sunday after helping Conrads to a 6-5 victory over visiting Windsor. “If I ever got to the point where I was embarrassing myself I’d probably get out of there. But I can still handle it right now.”
Still excelling: Hake may be downplaying his current abilities quite a bit. According to his manager at Conrads, Chad Kennell, Hake remains among the top players in the league to this day.
“He’s 42, almost 43 years old, and he’s still out there stealing bases,” Kennell said. “He’s always hustling, taking extra bases. He plays the game the right way and he’s still playing great.”
After Sunday’s contest, Hake’s batting average sits at .514 on the season (19 for 37). He’s hit two doubles, three home runs, scored eight runs and stolen three bases. He's a career .394 hitter in the Susquehanna League.
Perhaps the most remarkable number is that former York Revolution standout has struck out only once this season.
“My hat is off to him,” Kennell said. “He makes things happen.”
Fear as a motivator: Despite the success that he’s enjoyed over his career, fear was one of the biggest obstacles that Hake can recall about his time as a baseball professional. Learning to overcome it helped him accumulate a .274 batting average over five seasons as a pro player, including a terrific .310 season his first year in rookie ball back in 2000.
“I remember going up to the plate with a sense of fear,” he said. “Not of striking out or getting hit or anything like that, but of just wondering how I was going to get a hit off of this guy that’s throwing like 95 (mph).”
That emotion quickly subsides with even the smallest bit of success. After that, it’s just rinse and repeat.
“I remember thinking, ‘oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh,’” he said. “But then you go out there and make it work and you start to think, ‘man, I owned him,’ and then you get a little bit of self-confidence going.”
Settled down: While Hake can still allow his emotions to get the better of him, even as he has matured over the years, he’s settled down with the help of his wife and two young children. Now he realizes that he's no longer a full-time or even part-time pro baseball player. Now he’s a full-time dad to Traeger and Kinsey.
“Back in the day when I was playing (pro ball), I never thought that I would have kids,” he said. “And now I’m worried to bring them to the games these days because you see all these kids getting hit.”
Hake is holding out some hope that his son, who is 5, might turn out to be a baseball standout someday, like his dad. If that happens, however, it won’t be because Travis forced the issue.
“He starts tee-ball this week,” Hake said of Traeger. “His interest has just come naturally. He’s seen me always throwing a ball around, be it baseball or a football. I’m always doing something with a ball and he enjoys playing catch with me.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.