FAYETTEVILLE—Arby Hammonds smashes a hard ground ball toward Hailey Haynes, who brings her glove to the dirt, knocks the ball down and throws to first base. Hammonds is entering his fifth year as coach of the local Velocity travel ball team. The Velocity has some of the most talented players in the area.
“I’m very fortunate this year to have the 4A-5A Player of the Year Chelsea Mowery and the 1A-3A Player of the Year Hailey Haynes on this team,” Hammonds said. “Every player that plays on this team has made All County in their respectable counties. I have the Player of the Year from Randolph County—Valerie Watkins was the Player of the Year in Randolph County, Player of the Year in Talladega County big school and small school, and the rest of the girls made All County, whether it is Talladega County or Randolph County.”
For the overwhelming majority of the players, this will be their fifth year playing with Velocity.
“I’ve played travel ball probably since I was about 12,” Brooke Ogle said. “I played first for SWAT, which Arby coached with Edith (Castleberry). SWAT turned into Velocity and I’ve played from then on for Velocity.”
Even for the relative newcomers, this will be their second year playing with the team, so there is established team chemistry.
“I know everybody on (Childersburg),” 4A-5A Player of the Year Chelsea Mowery said. “Starting off with (Velocity), I really didn’t know anybody. Now, I have a whole other family. You meet a lot of new people. You make a lot of new friends playing travel ball.”
Cassie Mulkey, a rising senior at Wadley, has become close friends with many of the Talladega County players on the Velocity team.
“It’s been so much fun,” Mulkey said. “I got to meet these amazing people. They’ve become my best friends. It’s gotten me a lot better in high school ball and getting ready for college.”
Hammonds first became involved in travel ball when he sought a way to help his daughter, Fayetteville shortstop Hailey Haynes, to be able to improve.
“I wanted to help her progress because I could see she was a good ball player and I knew in order for her to reach her full potential, she needed to play elite competition outside of high school ball,” Hammonds explained. “So I started off saying this is what I’m going to do and this is where we’re going. Well, I’m telling you, I fell in love with the game. These girls give it all they’ve got every Saturday. You develop some kind of an attachment, kind of like your own kids. I try to teach the girls not only softball, but life lessons. It’s 100-plus degrees out there some days and they want to quit because they’re 18-year-old, 17 year-old girls and you hope they understand to fight through it. It builds character. It’s just life lessons learned through a very good, high level game.”
Haynes believes, even if crossing familial lines into a player-coach relationship can be challenging at times, Hammonds helps her to play her best.
“It’s different, but he’s always been there for me, so I’ve gotten used to it at this point,” she said. “I definitely play better when he’s there jumping on me.”
Travel ball gathers together the best players from an area, which then plays against travel ball teams from other nearby areas every Saturday during the summer.
“We’ll play several tournaments throughout the summer all over the state of Alabama,” Hammonds said. “We play quality tournaments that only make the girls better. I’m looking forward to it, like I have the past four years.”
Hammonds noted one of the primary differences between travel ball and school ball is the level of pitching, with velocities often 10 mph faster in travel ball.
“It’s most definitely changed how I come to the plate,” Haynes said when asked how travel ball pitching helped her as a hitter. “It taught me I had to be mentally tough and learn what the pitcher’s going to throw and be prepared before I get up there and know what she’s about to throw.”
Ogle, in her sixth year of travel ball, believes spending the entire summer with teammates and the travel element builds a more familiar bond.
“You spend most of your time during the summer at travel ball,” she said. “As soon as high school ball turns around, you’re back at travel ball. It’s different from high school ball because you play six years for travel ball and only four years for high school, so you have a more family-like bond with your teammates.”
Ogle’s long-time teammate with both Velocity and at Sylacauga, Kay Kay Owens, confirmed that travel ball creates a close bond.
“Me and Brooke Ogle, we’ve been playing school ball all our life and then playing travel ball together that made us so much closer and Arby, we’re real close, too,” Owens said.
Fayetteville’s third baseman Brittany Snyder believes playing with players from a wide variety of schools helps prepare players to compete when school ball is in play.
“We all just come together,” Snyder said. “It’s good playing with different people and seeing them in other competitions and playing against them. So, we know them when we play against them. We know their weaknesses and we know their strengths.”
The best thing about travel ball for Haynes is the opportunity to learn from such a wide cast of talented players.
“I definitely like playing with people who are better than me, so I can learn,” she said. “I learn from everybody that I play with. I watch and I learn more ways to play more efficient and get more outs.”