I had a nice conversation with four time softball All American Haylie McCleney recently, covering a number of topics from her charity work, her family, her time at Alabama, her football background, her training growing up, and what she is up to now.
McCleney is involved with The Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation’s Sports Matter Giving Truck. Dick’s is heavily invested in Team USA, which McCleney is a member of. The program is providing 10,000 youth softball and baseball players around the country with equipment, everything from bats and balls, to gloves and shoes and uniforms. McCleney said she was immediately on board when she realized this was a great chance to grow softball and baseball in the country. Dick’s had a truck go to Mobile today to deliver goods and McCleney was connected via Zoom for the presentation. “Seeing the look on the young people’s faces and their excitement made it all worthwhile for me,” she said. “Any time I can be involved with promoting the sport I love, I will be there.”
We discussed the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo that were scheduled for July of 2020 but postponed by Covid. Haylie says that things are on track for July of this year. Team USA recently played a three game series with Team Mexico. McCleney had a huge series in the first international competition they have played since 2019 and she notes that “it was important to get the feeling, to get that fire reignited.” Over the next few weeks Team USA will play exhibitions at the University of South Florida and in Gainesville at the University of Florida. A May trip to their training center in Los Angles will precede the team heading to Japan in late June or early July. McCleney does not know yet if her family will be able to make the trip as the organizers have yet to release plans for attendance, but they realize that the main thing is for Haylie to be able to compete for the Gold with USA across her chest. McCleney said the national staff has done a wonderful job of providing the safest possible environment for her and her 17 teammates.
I asked Haylie about growing up in Morris, AL with a super competitive family and how that molded her career. Her father, John Wayne McCleney, played centerfield for Samford, her brother Walker was a centerfielder for Alabama from 2017-2019 and Garrison, the youngest McCleney, is playing baseball at Wallace Hanceville as a freshman this year. Haylie said, “Everything is a competition at our house. The way we grew up gave me a step up toward reaching the level I have in my sport. My brothers and father pushed me to get better every day.” She went on to say that it doesn't matter if it is a board game, cards, tiddly winks, or a backyard softball, baseball, or football game that nothing gives her more satisfaction than beating her brothers at something. “Growing up this way I was truly blessed, I would not be an Olympian or had the career I’ve had with out it. The competition has made me who I am, both as a person and an athlete.”
One of the drills that her dad used for she and her brothers is known as “the McCleney outfield drill.” Dad was a teacher and coach for many years, and implemented the program to help his offspring develop their defensive skills. It obviously worked as Haylie was known as much for being a wizzard in the outfield, and her brothers as well. Haylie said that “defense is definitely my bread and butter, and the drills helped take by game to another level.” She went on to say that all McCleneys take pride in their defensive play.
Unlike many young ladies, Haylie started off in softball at five years of age instead of starting with baseball, as her area started a league just as she turned of age. However, she did star as a quarterback as a fifth grader for a Gardendale team. She reiterated to me that she wasn't “that good” but the highlight of her career is when they traveled to play Hueytown and the opposing QB was none other than Jameis Winston. Winston and team did win the game quite handily.
On her time at Alabama, Haylie said “I wouldn't be where I am if I had not gone to Alabama. Murph, Coach Ally, and Steph get the best out of you, and offer the best coaching while developing leadership and character, which makes you a better player and person.” She continued, “By far the best decision I have ever made. You are family when you go to Alabama and remain family long after you are gone. Alabama softball fans are the best in the country.”
McCleney was a four time All American at The Capstone, one of only six Bama softball players to be so honored. She finished her career as the school’s all time leading hitter with a .477 batting average, best all time in on base percentage at .569, leader in walks with 199, and record holder with 16 triples. On top of that she is second in runs scored with 279 and stole an incredible 118 bases in 125 attempts, a success rate of 94% and the fifth highest total for the Tide. The star is third in slugging percentage at .390 and fourth in hits with 313.
McCleney had to give up her job at FAMU as their strength and conditioning coach in January of 2020 to ready for the Olympics. Although the games were postponed until this year the Olympic team has trained ever since. She also has been involved in playing with the new Athletes Unlimited professional league. Haylie is happy that the sport of softball is growing and is glad that it is once again an Olympic sport.
Her sole mission in Tokyo?
“Go get the gold.”
What an outstanding young woman and special athlete that Haylie is. I join all Bama fans in looking forward to her representing her family, the University of Alabama, and Team USA in July and August in Tokyo.