Some little girls dream of castles and tea parties. Not Nebraska sophomore Hailey Decker. She dreamed of stadiums and ballgames, as she set her aspirations on becoming the first woman to play Major League Baseball.
Like father, like daughter.
Steve Decker was 117 games into his seven-year MLB career when his wife, Maite, gave birth to Hailey on March 31, 1994. Steve spent the first five years of Hailey’s life playing professional baseball, before he transitioned into coaching, beginning a journey that led him to his current role as the Coordinator of Minor League Hitting Instruction for the San Francisco Giants organization.
Tagging along on that journey as much as she could was Hailey, an aspiring ball player of her own. When Steve earned one of his first managing jobs for the Giants’ Class A short season team, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the family’s hometown, Hailey was the team’s bat girl.
“Since I was born, my dad has been in the professional baseball world,” she said. “So baseball/softball was our lifestyle. It only felt right to play. My dad obviously taught me almost everything I know. Being developed by someone whose job it is to help players become Major Leaguers was definitely a blessing.
“But I wouldn’t be anywhere without my mom either. Because my dad is a baseball coach, he is gone for a solid nine months of the year, including softball season. My mom is honestly a superhero. She somehow managed to go through many years of hectic travel ball schedules and research about the college recruiting process to help me get where I am now, all while holding down the house and taking care of my younger sister and our two dogs.”
Sacrifice became a big theme for the Deckers, who embraced it as a worthwhile family concept. Sacrifice was needed to make the family function and sacrifice was also needed to be successful in one’s chosen endeavor. Hailey took this concept to heart, deciding early that she would do whatever was required to become a collegiate softball player.
“I was seven years old when I told my parents I was going to play college softball, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” she said. “When you make a statement like that in my family, you have to act upon it. The road to becoming a Husker started then.”
Decker’s Recruiting Journey Didn’t Originally Include Nebraska
At age 16, Decker was one of the youngest players invited to try out for the U.S. Junior National team in 2010, an honor which cemented her status as one of the most coveted recruits in her class. But becoming a Husker wasn’t exactly on Decker’s radar when she began to get serious about the recruiting process, despite Nebraska being among the first programs to show real interest.
“My parents forced me to go on a visit to Nebraska,” Decker said. “I was set on going to another school, but Kylee Muir’s dad, who was my travel ball coach, convinced my parents to take me there for my first visit.”
Decker and Muir, a junior at Nebraska, both played for the Northwest Bullets. Muir had chosen to become a Husker three years earlier and Dennis Muir, Kylee’s father, thought Hailey could thrive in the Husker environment.
“Nebraska’s coaching staff, the University and the support staff are all outstanding people,” Dennis Muir said. “Surrounding our players with outstanding role models is very important to us, and that’s why we felt like it would be wise for Hailey to at least visit Nebraska.”
It was indeed a wise decision. What was once an unwanted unofficial visit to Lincoln evolved into Decker’s decision to make Nebraska her ultimate softball destination.
“There are many reasons why Nebraska is the place for me, but I decided that it was the place for me in December of 2009,” Decker recalled. “I was in the process of choosing a college, and I called Coach Revelle crying and asked her to help me figure out what school I wanted to go to.
“She took her ‘coaching cap’ off and talked me through it with no bias. After the phone call, I realized I wouldn’t want to be coached by anyone other than Coach Revelle.”
Decker didn’t get that feeling from every school she visited, nor from every coach she met, noting one opposing coach hung up on her twice when Decker called to tell that coach she had chosen to be a Husker.
But Revelle, entering her 22nd season at Nebraska in 2014, has always put the student-athlete first and routinely offers to help recruits with any part of the process, whether it be Husker-specific or unrelated to Nebraska.
“I always tell recruits that it’s important that they make the right decision for them; not for their parents, not for their travel ball coach, but for them,” Revelle said. “I said to Hailey that there may be a time where you just feel like you need to talk but people don’t get it. I told her you are more than welcome to call me, I’m very capable of taking off my coaching hat and helping you through it.
“I live in this world so I feel like I can ask good questions to help you figure out what’s best for you. If it comes down to another school is your best fit, then great I’ve helped you make a decision that’s best for you. And if it’s Nebraska that’s your best fit, even better.”
Revelle offered Decker the opportunity to talk about anything, and by doing so, Decker realized Nebraska had the family atmosphere she had been seeking.
“Nebraska cares about you as a person, not just as an athlete,” she said.
Freshman Season Finally Earned Decker Her Coveted Team Jacket
Decker said one of her earliest softball memories was not one of pride, joy or adulation. Instead, it was one of tears and heartbreak. When she was a fifth-grader, Decker had her sights set on playing for her hometown Keizer All-Stars, a select try-out team featuring the best players in the city. Decker was excited for the opportunity to be an all-star, but she missed tryouts while visiting her father, who was coaching in the Arizona Cactus League during the MLB Spring Training season.
By missing the tryout, Decker did not make the team, and she was unable to call herself a Keizer All-Star. But her real disappointment came when she was left out of the all-stars’ clique.
“The all-star girls got these cool jackets and because I didn’t have one, I wasn’t allowed to hang out with the team,” she said. “I remember crying because I wanted so badly to be a Keizer All-Star.”
Decker never got her Keizer All-Star jacket, but this past spring – eight years later – she joined an even more elite group when she was presented with a Husker letterwinner’s jacket.
“Now that I have a jacket with an ‘N’ on it, I’m not too sad about the all-star jacket,” Decker said. “I’m getting to experience my dream playing college softball, and my letter jacket is a symbol that dreams do come true.”
Decker earned her letterwinner’s jacket thanks to a terrific freshman season last spring. While helping the Huskers to a berth in the Women’s College World Series, Decker started all 61 games at second base. She batted .244 and produced six homers, 13 doubles and 29 RBIs. It was quite an impact for a freshman, one that stacked up as one of the most productive freshman seasons in school history. Decker’s 13 doubles were the third-highest total ever by a Husker freshman, and her six home runs and 29 RBIs both ranked eighth on Nebraska’s all-time freshman chart.
A few of those home runs and RBIs came at crucial times for the Big Red. Decker powered 16th-ranked Nebraska to a 7-4 come-from-behind win over No. 9 Michigan in May, slugging a three-run homer with the Huskers trailing by two in the bottom of the sixth inning. She then hit another sixth-inning homer that ignited Nebraska’s four-run comeback against No. 2 Florida in the WCWS, a game where the Huskers eventually fell in 15 innings.
But Decker believes even better memories are ahead for a young and talented Nebraska softball team this spring, a group that returns two All-Americans, five position starters and its entire pitching staff.
“Our goal this year is simple: to play Nebraska softball,” she said. “If we do that, great things will happen.”
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Hailey
1) She was on a performing jump rope team for five years.
2) She can’t stand the sound of Velcro. “It makes me twitch,” she said.
3) If she forgets the name of an object, she automatically calls it a “meow-meow”.