In the Clubhouse: Paige Halstead is ready to win another championship

June 17th, 2022

Paige Halstead has a trophy case that is the envy of any athlete. The catcher with one seriously sweet swing was a member of the United States silver medal-winning World Cup of Softball team in 2016, and she won the national championship with UCLA in 2019 when they defeated current back-to-back champs Oklahoma in the Women's College World Series. The bright lights and big stage are nothing new for Halstead, who has also played professionally with Athletes Unlimited following her college career.

We had a chance to chat with her as she prepares to suit up for the Red Sox in this year's FTX MLB Home Run Derby X.

Portions of this interview have been edited for clarity and length.

MLB: What excited you about playing in Home Run Derby X?

Halstead: I think just the whole basis of Home Run Derby X and bringing awareness to professional softball and different athletes [was exciting]. I think that's the one thing that really interested me in this whole entire event because softball is looking for that recognition. I think it's really going to help spread awareness about it.

MLB: Softball and women's sports seem to be at a really critical point right now. There is more attention than ever on the softball and the Women's College World Series, and there are even places like that new bar in Portland, Ore., that are specifically focused on women's sports. What do you see as the next steps for softball to continue gaining more recognition?

Halstead: You see more and more athletes getting out on social media and building their own brands. I think any athletes that are willing to share their journeys or stories to get that attention that softball needs -- I think that would definitely be the next step. And that bar opening -- having that recognition for all those women athletes that did amazing in their sports and bringing that woman empowerment, I think that's huge.

MLB: Your team -- UCLA -- beat Oklahoma for the Women's College World Series in 2019. Since then, Oklahoma has won back-to-back titles and seems to have become this huge dynasty. What was that experience playing for and winning the title? Does it feel even more special now?

Halstead: Being able to win the national championship in my senior year was just something that I will always remember. Just being at the Women's College World Series is a surreal feeling in itself, and it makes all the hard work and all of the crazy games and crazy reps seem worth it at the end. Being in that situation, being in the championship game, and being on that stage with all your teammates, and all the crowd is yelling -- it was definitely nerve wracking.

Looking back on it and being a little bit older now -- I'm 25 years old -- and watching the World Series, it takes everything full circle. It's like, 'Wow, I can't believe that.' You go through all these journeys throughout your life, and then you make it to that stage and everybody's watching you. But it just seems like such a crazy accomplishment.

MLB: Do you enjoy that pressure and all the attention? Or is that something you need to block out?

Halstead: I think I'm half and half. I do like it just because it's a challenge. But [in the championship series] it was more of an Oklahoma crowd -- it was their home base. So everybody was just going crazy. I had to just focus down and try to block out as much noise as I could for my team.

MLB: Do you have a favorite moment from your career:

Halstead: It wouldn't be me, it would be the national championship game when Jacqui Prober scored the winning run. Kinsley Washington hit a little blooper single, and then Jackie came in and did like a safe slide. That's something that I just keep replaying in my head.

MLB: HRDX obviously has some pretty exciting and different new rules. Athletes Unlimited has its own unique rules, as well. What was that experience like? Do you enjoy playing under the different rules?

Halstead: That was my first professional season, so I went in there as a rookie. And I didn't really know what to expect, really, I just knew that I was going to be surrounded by amazing people, and obviously an amazing league. The point system was the one thing that I had to get used to, where it's more like you're earning your own points. And for me, I'm more of like a team-based player. So, I had to get used to that, 'OK, if I throw somebody out, I get a point. If I get a single, I get a point.' It is about winning, but it's also about earning your points as well. It was something for me to get used to as a player. But it was it was an amazing experience.

MLB: Obviously, for Wild Card Liv Cooke, this is her first experience in a bat and ball sport. You've made a lot of posts on social media showing off good swings and giving people tips and tricks to improve their game. Have you spoken to Liv yet and offered her any advice?

Halstead: I haven't yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to meeting her in person. And also just going back and forth on tips and tricks, I'm sure that Jonny [Gomes] would help a lot, too. I definitely have seen some videos about about Liv and I think she's amazing. I'm really excited to be able to meet her and work with her.

MLB: Has training been unique for HRDX? Are there things you're working on that you wouldn't usually?

Halstead: The only difference would just be hitting baseballs. Everything is kind of the same, trying to do as much drill work as I can to prepare for the event. But I think the main difference is hitting baseballs -- and they do go a lot farther.

MLB: Do you have a player or a sporting hero that you look up to?

Halstead: It might sound cheesy, but one is my brother Ryan [a former member of the San Francisco Giants organization]. Growing up, he was the one who taught me how to hit a baseball. Having him as a role model, not only for the sport, but as a human has helped me so much throughout my career mentally and got me to where I needed to be to play at UCLA. Having him to look up to -- he's just an amazing person. He's definitely one of them.

And then the other one is Lisa Fernandez, who was my assistant coach at UCLA. It's crazy to have played for her, as well. She's just an amazing human and coach. You know, very intense, but just has amazing intentions and helped me so much as an athlete and as a person.

MLB: We'll wrap up with a couple silly questions. At the test event in Raleigh, Jonny Gomes came to the plate and hit dingers to an Adele song. Do you have a walk-up song in mind?

Halstead: Oh, no, I have no idea. I need to think about that, though. I'm more into rap, I do love rap. Maybe I have to get like a little bit more hyped up, so maybe some rock and roll.

MLB: What's your go-to ballpark food?

Halstead: It sounds like very cliche, but every time I go to a baseball game, I need to get a Diet Coke and either a hot dog or a pretzel.

MLB: What do you put on your hot dog?

Halstead: Sometimes it's just mustard. But sometimes I like to mix ketchup and mustard, which is weird, but I like it.