Hayes has been versatile performer
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – Barring a huge gaffe by Major League Baseball, Nevada’s Brett Hayes’ highly successful University of Nevada baseball career will end this weekend.
Hayes, the Wolf Pack’s starting catcher for three straight years, is expected to be selected high enough in next month’s baseball draft to warrant signing a contract and starting the pursuit of his childhood dream.
That realization alone would make one giddy and looking into the future. Not Hayes. He’s being level-headed. The 6-foot-1 senior from Calabasas, Calif., has his sights focused on Nevada’s final series of the season against Fresno State starting today at Peccole Park.
“For me, I have another three games here,” Hayes said, looking wistfully out at the Peccole Park playing surface. “Whatever happens, happens. If it doesn’t work out for some reason, I’d be more than happy to come back here.
“It’s been a blessing in disguise to come here. I’m happy about what’s to come. It’s sad to know that these are the last three games I will play with this group. I’ve made some great friends here.”
Hayes said he’s heard from all 30 organizations, and all 30 are saying the same thing. He said he hasn’t discussed dollars with any of the scouts, or his parents for that matter. He’s taking a wait and see type of attitude. He does, however, have a workout at Fenway Park on Memorial Day.
The Nevada coaching staff has recruited over the past year figuring it won’t have Hayes around.
“If he’s back here next year I’d be surprised,” said Jay Uhlman, Nevada assistant coach. “That means somebody dropped the ball. We’re going through the off-season like he’s not going to be here.”
And, make no mistake about it, Hayes will be missed, and not just for his offense. The junior catcher is a career .335 hitter for the Pack, and was the all-WAC catcher his first two seasons in the conference when he hit .365 and .337.
Hayes has been a jack-of-all trades defensively. Though most of his time at Nevada has been spent at catcher, he also has played third, short, right field, center and left field. His versatility is legendary. It’s what earned him a spot on Team USA last summer.
“There are not a lot of guys that can do what he does,” Uhlman said. “That’s what makes him so valuable. Not a lot of catchers can go out and play shortstop. He’s as amazing an athlete as anybody I’ve ever coached.
“He reminds me of Jason Kendall (A’s catcher). Their builds are similiar and neither is super strong. He (Hayes) runs well for that position. They are doubles-type hitters and their arms are comparable.”
Hayes will always consider himself a catcher first. His work ethic, athleticism and mental toughness, however, have enabled him to play other positions and excel, according to Nevada coach Gary Powers.
“I haven’t played first, second or pitcher here,” Hayes said. “I’m one of those guys, wherever they want me to play, I’ll be glad to play and play hard. I want to catch. That is my position. If a team wants me to play other positions, I’ll do it happily.”
That kind of attitude is what got Hayes selected to Team USA last summer. He was ticketed for the Cape Cod League, but was selected for Team USA tryouts and made the squad.
“They interviewed us one at a time,” Hayes said. “They told me I basically had two choices. Either go to the Cape Cod League and get a lot of at-bats or play for Team USA and get limited at-bats. It was the easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life.
“It was a win-win for me. I was going to go to one of the best leagues if I didn’t get picked for the team.”
Hayes played seven positions during the tour and tournament, hitting .315. He started half the games in left field. The gold-medal experience was one he’ll never forget.
Powers believes that Hayes’ future is in catching. He handles the Wolf Pack pitching staff with the aplomb of somebody who has been catching for a million years at an elite level.
“It (catching) is the fastest way to the majors other than pitching,” Powers said. “He calls the game (the pitches). Every once in a while, he’ll look over to get some help. He called pitches last year. He learned quickly what Stan (Stolte, pitching coach) and I were trying to do.”
“I always have confidence with him back there,” Pack junior pitcher Ryan Rodriguez said. “He calls solid games. When I came here as a freshman, he already knew all the good hitters on the different teams. If I shake him off, it’s not that I know more, I just may have a hunch.”
Being able to receive the ball; getting some strikes for your pitcher during the course of the game and calling a good game are what the Major League teams are looking for, according to Powers. It’s become a lost art over the years, as more and more catchers coming up focus on hitting. One of the exceptions is the Giants’ Mike Matheny, who is considered one of baseball’s top defensive catchers.
Hayes will be remembered for his many accomplishments at Nevada where he is a crowd favorite. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t heavily recruited.
Hayes caught his junior year at Notre Dame High, but was switched to shortstop because the team had nobody else to play there. That probably cost him a chance to land at one of the bigger schools in Southern California.
He took a couple of unofficial visits, but no scholarship money was offered. He didn’t hesitate signing with Nevada when he took his recruiting trip. No doubt some schools are kicking themselves right now.
“He was a two-sport athlete (football and baseball), so he didn’t play fall or winter baseball,” Powers said. “I think he was a better player because of that. He developed physical and mental toughness. It helped his athleticisim. Kids that never played football don’t have it (mental toughness).”
He opened some eyes his freshman season, hitting .365 with eight homers and 63 RBI, and followed that up with a .337 effort last year. Hayes is at .303 this year, but has been struggling in recent conference games.
“He’s been trying to do too much with pitches that he can’t do anything with,” Powers said. “He’s just trying to do too much in general. He needs to get his offensive mindframe back where it was last year.”
“He has to work on pitch selection; being able to stay off pitches,” Uhlman said.
Both Nevada coaches say that while Hayes has spent time in the weight room, he must get stronger to perform at the professional level.
“He’s got to develop good overall body strength,” Powers said. “One hundred forty games compared to 56 is huge difference.”
When he looks at his three-year career, the only regret Hayes had is that the Wolf Pack didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Definitely not making the tournament was a disappointment,” Hayes said. “We were disappointed my freshman year (32-24). We finished the season taking two of three at Louisiana Tech. They were shaking our hands and wishing us good luck at the tournament. Coach Powers got on the phone on the plane and gave us the thumbs down. It was a real quiet ride back home.”
Hayes had gotten used to winning. Between his freshman and sophomore year his summer team won a national championship, and last year he won a gold medal for the United States at the World University Championships. Without a doubt, the last two seasons at Nevada have been a tad disappointing. The team has been shooting blanks.
Like Hayes said, you can’t change the past. He would like nothing more than to go out with a bang this weekend.