By JED LOCKETT
PRINCETON — Anyone who did not know any better would think that Tyree Hayes was into the very latest in technology. Late last week, he was outside the Princeton Devil Rays’ clubhouse gabbing away on his iPhone.
“It’s a great device,” Hayes said. “It shows that technology’s going crazy these days.”
Surprisingly, Hayes says he is not a person that keeps up with the latest in technology. He just got caught up in the hysteria over Apple’s new gadget.
“I saw this phone and they were making a big deal about it,” Hayes said. “So I thought I’d buy it and try it out. I’ve absolutely enjoyed this phone.”
The pitcher for the Princeton Devil Rays uses that phone to maintain contact with those that are close to him in his life. Hayes, who is spending his second year in Princeton, was drafted straight out of Tumball High School by Tampa Bay.
Hayes lived in Houston at the time, so going from a bustling city to a small town was a major adjustment for him.
“It’s more businesslike,” Hayes said. “There’s a lot more people. It’s a little bit slower here. It’s kind of hard to adjust, but not bad.
“I’ve been able to make the adjustment. You’ve just got to take it one day at a time.”
Most minor leaguers, especially those on the rookie league level, can only dream of making it to the majors. Hayes has already lived it. His father, Charlie Hayes, played 14 seasons for seven different teams.
“I’ve been playing baseball my whole life,” Hayes said. “My dad, he played professional. So I guess that kind of egged it on. Ever since I was three, I’ve been playing baseball every day almost.”
Hayes has lived a baseball life. His father was the biggest influence in his upbringing. Hayes carries those memories with him wherever he goes.
“I followed baseball a lot,” Hayes said. “My dad played, so I was always around it. So I really had no other choice but to follow it.
“Probably it was a little different than most people’s lives I would guess. It was tremendous going to the yard every day, watching big leaguers do everything every day that you hope someday you can do. It was a blast.”
Unlike a lot of players, Hayes did not have a favorite team growing up.
“I always had a favorite player, though,” Hayes said. “I was a position player most of my life and my favorite infielder was Alex Rodriguez. And then growing up being a pitcher, too, my favorite pitcher was Pedro Martinez.
“I guess A-Rod because...he’s one of the greatest players to play. And Pedro, I just like how Pedro went about his things on the pitching mound. He’s got mental intimidation over the plate.”
Hayes has gone from watching the lifestyle of a baseball player to living it.
“Since I play pro ball now, everything that we do from day-to-day is basically the same thing except they are more talented than we are,” Hayes said.
The elder Hayes was a career third baseman. The younger Hayes wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by manning the infield as well. But scouts saw another talent in the son of a former Major-Leaguer.
“I always played middle infield,” Hayes said. “I didn’t start pitching until my sophomore year in high school.
“At first, I didn’t think I was as good of a pitcher as most people thought I was. I just said, ‘Everybody thinks I’m a better pitcher than a position player. So I might as well take on the pitching job.”
Hayes has taken the proverbial bull by the horns. He is spending his time in Princeton learning from a former Major League pitching coach in hopes of someday getting to the majors.
“Being with my pitching coach Marty DeMerritt who was a pitching coach in the big leagues, I’ve learned a lot about baseball,” Hayes said. “Coming into pro ball, I thought I had a pretty good feel about things. But he taught me so much about pitching.”
Hayes plans to take that knowledge and his work ethic and use those things to achieve his ultimate goal.
“I think if I keep going about doing everything that I’m doing and working hard every day, coming to the ball park, loving to play baseball, I think I have a pretty good chance of making it,” Hayes said.
“I’d give anything to play pro baseball every day. It’s not so much about the money as it’s just about being able to come to the ball park every day and play with some of the best players in the world.”
Hayes wants to make it because he wants to do what he loves most in life.
“I love this game,” Hayes said. “Baseball’s probably my favorite sport. I’d play baseball over anything.”
— Contact Jed Lockett