Hailey Arteaga was not always destined to be a softball player, at least not according to her mom, Rebeca Cook. A gymnast, Cook never envisioned her daughter playing softball. She thought she would be a ballerina.
“‘There’s no way [she will play softball],” Cook often remarked. “She’s going to be a ballet dancer.’”
But it was Arteaga’s father, Michael, a former baseball player, who nudged his daughter toward a career in cleats and not slippers.
“My dad just kept telling me, ‘You’re playing softball, you’re playing softball,’” Arteaga said. “Now years and years and years later, I’m still playing.”
Now in her second season as a Pirate, Arteaga has a new perspective on playing a collegiate sport.
“I definitely went in with a different mindset [this year] than I did my freshman year,” Arteaga said. “My freshman year I was way more-timid and trying to prove myself. I’ve had a whole season to see pitching, so I just got in the box and was seeing the ball pretty well.”
Arteaga is modest, as to say the second-year starter has just been ‘seeing the ball well’ in the Pirates’ first eight games is an understatement. Arteaga is hitting .435, with two home runs and seven RBIs through eight games, good enough for an .826 slugging percentage. Looking to build off a solid freshman season, Arteaga put conscious efforts into improving all aspects of her game, including her diet.
“My freshman year I ate really bad. This offseason I lost like 15 to 20 pounds,” Arteaga said. “Since I’m an outfielder I have to be fast, so I’ve been trying to work on my speed.”
So far, the diligence has paid off as Arteaga has already stolen two bases this season, which is only one shy of her total from all of last year. She has also played a stellar left field for Seton Hall coach Paige Smith.
“She’s one of those kids that everybody respects,” Smith said. “So, having someone that works so hard do so well shows everybody what hard work can do.”
A California native, Arteaga had a long journey to the Hall.
“I was like, New Jersey?,” Arteaga said.
Despite not knowing more than the Pacific Ocean breeze, the sophomore always knew she wanted to play on the east coast, and found South Orange to be a great match.
“Her travel coach said such amazing things about her that we decided we had to go see her,” Smith said. “I don’t think we saw a game that she didn’t hit a home run in.
“She was just a perfect fit for our culture. She’s a hard worker who’s always smiling and just a pleasure to work with.”
Right away Arteaga fell in love with that very culture surrounding Seton Hall softball.
“I love my teammates. They’re awesome people and I can be myself around them,” Arteaga said. “That’s really what I wanted in a school, somewhere I can make mistakes and not feel bad about it, and have a good college experience.”
“We just need Hailey to be Hailey, and that’s really it,” Smith said. It’s really been fun to see her grow.”
Off to a strong start in her sophomore season, Arteaga’s growth bodes well for a softball team with expectations to achieve high goals this spring. With so much promise and potential, Smith and the Pirates hope Arteaga will not be handing in her cleats for slippers anytime soon.
Nick Santoriello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NickSantoriello.