01/26/09 11:21 AM EST
Batting Around with Chris Hayes
Royals prospect on the radar after big year, Wieters interview
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
By all accounts, Kansas City Royals right-hander Chris Hayes should have hit fans' radar screens in 2008, based solely on his stats.
Working in relief for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the Double-A Texas League, Hayes posted a 1.64 ERA in 40 games out of the 'pen. He collected 12 saves, striking out 39 batters and walking only 13 in 65 2/3 innings. He ranked fifth in the league (and second in the Royals organization) in saves and second in runners allowed per nine innings (8.63).
But it actually took until the offseason, when Hayes agreed to write a "guest blog" entry in the popular Arizona Fall League blogger series on MLB.com, for him to start getting some "fan love."
Rather than writing about himself, the submarine-style pitcher conducted a mock interview (very mock, as in fictional) with his Surprise Rafters teammate, Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, arguably one of the top prospects in baseball.
Hayes, who signed with the Royals in 2006 out of a tryout camp a year after receiving his degree in computer science from Northwestern University, pretty much forgot about the blog entry once he hit "send," until the kudos started pouring in.
"I was surprised because when I was writing it, I thought no one would read it," said Hayes, who added he is still actively receiving responses from people who read the sole entry. "It's kind of flattering, but I also wish people knew me for being a baseball player."
If Hayes continues to enjoy the success he's seen on the mound so far, that could come quickly.
The 26-year-old began his pro career in 2005 for the Windy City ThunderBolts, an independent league team in his hometown of Chicago. He caught the eye of a few scouts who invited him to come to Arizona that winter for their invitation-only tryouts.
He didn't make the initial cut at his first tryout, but while leaving the stadium, another player asked if he'd be attending the Royals' open tryout later that week. Hayes hadn't heard anything about it but figured as long as he was in town, why not?
Out of just under 100 prospective players, Hayes was one of four invited to stick around and let the team get a second look at him. And the next day he received a call asking him to sign with the team.
He spent his first two seasons, 2006-07, at Class A Burlington, posting a 2.79 ERA in 45 games in his debut and a 3.10 ERA in 42 appearances in '07 before moving up to Double-A in 2008.
And the ever-burgeoning legion of Chris Hayes fans can rejoice. Not only will they get to see their new hero pitch in 2009, they'll also get to read his blog entries on a more regular basis, as he will be a regular blogger here at MLB.com.
MLB.com: Of what accomplishment, on or off the field, in your life are you the proudest?
CH: Getting married would be one of them. Graduating college and then getting signed was obviously something I was excited about, because I wasn't drafted.
MLB.com: What do you think you'd be doing now if you weren't playing baseball?
CH: That's a good question. I was a computer science major and pretty much everyone I graduated with went off to Seattle and worked for Microsoft. But I never saw myself doing that, even though I'm trained as a programmer. I couldn't imagine sitting at a 9-to-5 desk job every day. So maybe something front office-related in baseball that combined my computer science with my love for baseball.
MLB.com: Everyone has a "hidden talent." What's yours?
CH: I'm an accomplished chess player. I started when I was a kid and would go to nationals in chess tournaments. But there is a huge time commitment to compete at that level, so when I got to high school I scaled down the amount of time I spent studying and playing chess to focus more on sports, because I figured I could play chess at any age and baseball, obviously, I couldn't.
MLB.com: What is the worst job you've ever had?
CH: I've been lucky that I really haven't had any bad ones. But when we were in college, we had to clean up the football stadium on Sunday mornings after Saturday football games. Twenty people cleaning a stadium that sits 50,000 at 7 in the morning in Chicago.
MLB.com: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
CH: Matt Damon. When I was in school, "Good Will Hunting" came out, and I got that relatively often, that I looked exactly like him. It's funny, his wife actually looks quite a bit like my wife.
MLB.com: Which aspect of life in the Minors do you find to be the biggest challenge and why?
CH: I think the moving around, the lack of any kind of permanence. Like, my wife and I are trying to register our car and do we register in Illinois? In Arizona? Where did we vote? All the forms ask for current residence when I haven't had one for years. When you get pots and pans for your wedding, you can't fit them in the car. Our whole life has to fit in the car.
MLB.com: Who is the most unusual character you've met in your pro baseball career?
CH: I could put any left-handed pitcher in there. Oh, my God, it is absolutely true what they say about them. I'll go with (2008 Naturals teammate) Tim Hamulack. Physically, he's an absolute specimen, a freak of nature. You walk into the weight room and the laws of physics don't apply to him. And he'll say all this off-the-wall stuff, but he's really intelligent, so he can back it up.
MLB.com: If you were Commissioner for a day, which one rule would you change?
CH: I'd get rid of the DH, even though I'm not a good hitter.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.