McKENZIE, Tenn. — Drew Hayes has played baseball in three countries and 18 states, but in his heart he’s never left West Tennessee.
Hayes pitches for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Southern League Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. He dreams of making the big leagues, but his ultimate dream is to come back home to teach and coach.
“This community has meant so much to me and done so many things for me,” Hayes, 24, said in an interview while his team was playing the Jackson Generals a few weeks ago.
“There are so many good people there that do so many good things for everybody. Everybody cares about you.”
Hayes was a baseball and football star at McKenzie High School. He was named Tennessee’s Mr. Football in 2005 and state player of the year by the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association in 2006.
He went to Bethel College, where his father, Glenn Hayes, coached baseball for 14 years before becoming athletic director. After two years, he transferred to Vanderbilt University.
As a senior, he led the Commodores to the NCAA Super Regional final. He was 6-0 with a 3.91 ERA his senior year. He graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and education and was academic All-SEC.
The Reds drafted him in the 11th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft. Since then he had worked his way up from the Reds’ Rookie-League affiliate in Billings, Mont., to its Class A team in Dayton, Ohio, to Pensacola.
“Baseball is the game I loved the most. I’ve been around it since I was born with my dad coaching,” he said. Glenn Hayes retired as Bethel’s athletic director last month, in part to be able to travel and watch his son pitch.
Drew Hayes credits his big-league faith to his small-town upbringing.
He was confirmed at McKenzie’s First United Methodist Church when he was in the sixth grade. His uncle is Rev. Bill Mullins, former pastor of St. Luke’s and St. Paul United Methodist churches in Memphis. His parents, Glenn and Joyce Hayes, and his girlfriend, Molly Wallsmith, still live there.
“I find myself away from family and friends who I talk to a lot and rely on for a lot of inspiration,” Hayes said. “Jesus is that person that is there for me to talk to. He is there to listen. He is there as a sounding board.”
Hayes said his faith helps him deal with the ups and downs of professional baseball.
“There are so many opportunities out there not to be a Christian, to let your faith slip, especially on the road, and do things that don’t reflect who you should be,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to get down on your faith but overcoming that makes you a stronger Christian. Hopefully people can see Jesus living through me.”
Chris Berset, Pensacola’s catcher who teamed with Hayes last season in Dayton, calls Hayes a “stand-up guy” who treats people the right way.
“He is such a nice guy,” Berset said. “He helps everybody out. You don’t get anything negative out of him and that is really huge. He is someone I consider one of my best friends and he has helped me along with me helping him in talking about faith and growing in that.”
Hayes’ 2011 season at Dayton was a good one. He compiled a 2-2 record with a 1.35 ERA, striking out 89 batters in 60 innings. He was named a Midwest League Post-Season All-Star and Class A Relief Pitcher of the Year by MiLB.com as well as MiLB.com Organizational All-Star.
At mid-point this season, Hayes, a right-hander, is 1-2 with a 4.25 ERA. Pensacola is closing a five-game series today with Jackson in Florida. Hayes pitched in relief against the Generals in May.
“I have confidence in myself that I have the ability to go out any day and get anybody out. God has given me that ability and the opportunity to make it to the major leagues. I want to focus on that,” said Hayes.