Fans approached Isaiah Hatch with baseball memorabilia hoping for an opportunity to get his autograph.
It was one of the many things that stood out from the teenager’s time in South Williamsport, Pa., during the 2010 Little League World Series where he led the Northwest team from Auburn to within one game of playing for the U.S. championship.
Twice, the starting pitcher/shortstop was featured on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays.
“There were some older guys coming to me and saying I should focus on baseball because that is what is going to make me money,” Isaiah said.
But his father, Leon Hatch – also his coach for the Decatur High School football team where Isaiah Hatch is the starting quarterback – knows the junior has a long way to go before he should concern himself with making money from baseball.
“I want him to enjoy sports,” Leon Hatch said. “He’s a student now. If he’s fortunate enough to move on beyond high school, that’s a bonus.”
Leon Hatch, 45, knows just how vital it is for a son to receive guidance from a father. That’s because he never got any growing up in Birmingham, Ala. – his father has been serving a life sentence for murder for the past 34 years at St. Clair Correctional Facility in Alabama.
“I remember just being frustrated with my situation, and the struggle and tired of being poor,” Leon Hatch said. “So I tried to hang out on the (street) corner.
“These guys came up to me and said, ‘All these guys you see on Sundays in the NFL, they couldn’t hold our jocks. But we are done. We lost our opportunities. But you have an opportunity. So if we see you hanging out here again, it’s not going to be pretty.’
“That’s all I needed to hear.”
Leon Hatch was intent on playing football at Auburn University. And while he showcased plenty of ability as the star player at Wenonah High School, he did not have the test scores Auburn required to enroll.
Instead he played football at Alabama A&M, always with that one primary goal in mind, even if that meant transferring.
At the end of his first semester at Alabama A&M, he met with a guidance counselor at Auburn. Her advice pointed him down two paths – finish the semester and lose one year of eligibility transferring to Auburn, or join the military and not lose any eligibility.
With a few weeks remaining in the season at Alabama A&M, he quit the football team and enlisted into the U.S. Navy.
“I was a bit stubborn at the time. My original thinking was, ‘If I’m not going to Auburn, I’m not going anywhere,’ ” Leon Hatch said. “Some other schools (were) interested in me. I sort of gave them the cold shoulder because I wanted to play in the SEC.”
His military assignment took him even further from Auburn. He was stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
He eventually worked himself back into football shape and started at cornerback at two colleges – Walla Walla Community College and Eastern Washington University, where suffered a career-ending knee injury in 1994, but he earned his undergraduate degree four years later.
Leon Hatch was hired as an assistant at Federal Way High School under coach John Meagher, then took over his own program at Mount Tahoma High School in 2002.
He left Mount Tahoma to coach at Decatur starting in 2007.
“I was young. I had no guidance and was driven by football,” Leon Hatch said. “I view it as a success, though, because of the circumstances I was able to come out of – teachers telling me I’m never going to step foot into a college, not going to play ball or do this or that just because of the neighborhood I came from.
“And I think if I didn’t have that drive, using football as my drive, maybe I wouldn’t have my degree.”
Leon Hatch certainly wants life to be easier than that for his students, players and especially his children.
In his household, good grades are imperative. And Isaiah Hatch’s grade-point average at Decatur is almost a 3.8. The junior was selected by the school to travel to a leadership summit in Boston at the end of September.
Isaiah Hatch continues to be a dual-sport dandy. He batted .374 with 24 RBI last spring on the Gators’ baseball team, and might be just as good a run-pass quarterback on the football team – although Decatur is just 1-6 this season.
For every hit he gets in baseball, or every yard he gains in football, Isaiah Hatch knows one thing – his father will be watching – and waiting with advice.
“Sometimes he can be a little over the top. He tells me a lot of the same things every single day,” Isaiah Hatch said. “But I can kind of understand that because he didn’t have that guidance, (or) that person in his life. I know he just doesn’t want me making the same mistakes he did.
“I always think when it gets hard, that what he went through was worse. That really pushes me more.”