FORT MYERS, Fla. – When the bus carrying Ke’Bryan Hayes and his Big League Baseball Academy-DeMarini Hayes teammates pulled up in front of the Player Development 5-Plex early Sunday morning it was signifying the beginning of the end. Not the end was imminent, of course.
The Tomball, Texas-based BLBA-DeMarini Hayes squad has been on tour for most of the summer and have now arrived in Southwest Florida to take part in the six-day 17u Perfect Game BCS Finals. Their most recent stop before pulling in here was at the 17u PG WWBA National Championship in Emerson, Ga., where they compiled a 5-1-3 record during their weeklong stay.
The Big League Baseball Academy (BLBA) was founded by former big-leaguer Charlie Hayes in Tomball, and for the last two years he has been taking this team on the road to experience the highest level of competition they can find outside of the state of Texas.
One of its most highly regarded prospects is Ke’Bryan Hayes, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound third baseman and right-handed pitcher and the No. 71-ranked national prospect in the class of 2015. He is also the son of Charlie Hayes, who in addition to running the BLBA is also this team’s head coach.
“I look forward to it every summer to come and play with this team,” Ke’Bryan Hayes said Sunday morning, shortly after the team had made its way into the 5-Plex. “We travel from city to city playing together and we all stay in (hotel) rooms together and it’s just a lot of fun. We’re a loose group and we have a few goobers, too, but you’ll always have a few of those on your team.”
Goobers or no goobers, BLBA-DeMarini Hayes got off to a fine start at the 17u PG BCS Sunday with an 8-0 win over the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Dodgers in the first of what will eventually be six pool-play games for both teams. 2015 BLBA right-hander Grant Guillory threw a six inning one-hitter and collected a pair of singles and 2015 Nick Blomgren doubled twice and drove in a run during the win.
It was just a nice way for the guys to get off the bus and stretch their legs.
“We’ve been on a bout a 35-day road-trip and we’re kind of wrapping it up, but it’s always an honor to get to come down here and play in the BCS,” Charlie Hayes said Sunday. “The thing is, when you get a group of kids that want to work hard and learn, that’s what I’m all about.
“We’ve got a pretty good group here with a good mixture of kids from Texas and Illinois, and we’ve been playing together now for two years so there’s not a whole lot with this group that I don’t know about,” he continued. “It’s just an honor for me to get the opportunity to be out here and to be doing something that I love to do.”
The 18-man BLBA-DeMarini roster includes 11 players from Texas and seven from Illinois in the classes of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 with a majority of 2015s. 2014s Alex Troop from Batavia, Ill., and Justin Yoss from Magnolia, Texas, have signed with Big Ten schools Michigan State and Northwestern, respectively, and 2015 Mitch Boe has committed to Iowa and the Big Ten.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, who calls Tomball home, and his good friend and teammate Tyler Halas, a 2105 from West Chicago, Ill., have committed to Tennessee.
“I just look to go out here and show tons of hustle and show the best of my abilities, and work hard and play hard,” Ke’Bryan said when asked what he looks forward to most in the days ahead at the 17u PG BCS. “The summer has been going great and we’re playing a lot of good teams and a lot of good players from around the country; it’s been good.”
This is the 23rd Perfect Game event Ke’Bryan Hayes has participated in since 2011, including a stop at the 2013 PG Junior National Showcase in Minneapolis. He was at Fort Myers’ JetBlue Park for the Perfect Game National Showcase a month ago, just weeks after earning Top Prospect recognition at the PG Sunshine South Showcase in his hometown of Tomball; he especially enjoyed the PG National experience.
“It was going against the best of the best, and that field was amazing to play at,” he said, referring to JetBlue Park, known also as Fenway South. “I just really enjoyed being on that platform.”
Charlie Hayes was able to find his way onto some pretty impressive platforms during a 15-year big league career that included 12 seasons in the National League and three in the American League. The San Francisco Giants selected him in the fourth round of the 1983 amateur draft and he wound up playing for seven organizations during his career, including four years with the Giants and four with the Philadelphia Phillies.
A corner-infielder, Charlie was a career .262 hitter and did smack 251 doubles and 144 home runs. He led the National League with 45 doubles while playing for the Colorado Rockies in 1993 and earned a World Series championship ring playing with the New York Yankees in 1996. It’s a wealth of experience and knowledge he is now in a position to pass on to a talented group of teenagers, including son.
“We’ve got a good group here and I think for the most part everyone listens when I have something to say,” Charlie said with a smile. “Now, do they apply the stuff that you tell them? I’m sure it’s probably 50-50 across the board. But we’ve got a good a group of kids and they’re receptive to learning and that’s the only way we’ll have it over here; we’re just having fun.”
For his part, Ke’Bryan tries to soak up as much as he can.
“Ever since I was little it seems like I’ve been ahead (of my peer group),” he said. “I know what’s expected and what to do and I just have a good feel for the game.”
Ke’Bryan has also been influenced by his older brother, Tyree Hayes, a right-handed pitcher and infielder who the Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected in the eighth-round of the 2006 MLB amateur draft right out of high school; he spent seven seasons in the minor leagues before retiring. Ke’Bryan said Tyree works with him frequently on both his pitching and fielding skills.
“I think the biggest advantage for him is having a brother that went through all that,” Charlie said. “I’m sure his older brother has relayed different information on to the younger brother … but (Ke’Bryan has) been a pretty good kid as far as watching and paying attention and not making the same mistakes that his brother made.
“(Tyree) is out of ball now but I think it’s been a blessing in disguise that he’s been there to help his brother,” Charlie continued. “If I want to tell (Ke’Bryan) something and he’s not receptive to what I say, I tell his brother and it and it works better that way.”
Ke’Bryan Hayes knows he has a lot of improvement to make moving forward, mostly in the areas of strength and speed. His dad is content to let him develop on his own without too much outside intervention.
“I pretty much let him play; I don’t really have a whole to say,” Charlie said. “He trains, he works hard, he knows the things he needs to do that are going to put him in a position to be successful. Now, as a dad, it’s glorifying for me to just stand back and watch him achieve all those things.
“He’s improved every year, with his weight, skill-set, work ethic, knowledge of the game – it’s all improved. A lot of people get caught up in numbers but I don’t. I understand it’s a look and as long as he’s working hard and he’s playing hard then there’s nothing else for me to say.”
In the next week or so, the BLBA-DeMarini Hayes road adventure will come to an end, and everyone will be left with nothing but good memories. “We’re a big family now and that’s the thing that has put us over the hump,” Charlie said. “We all travel together, we’re all staying together and that’s made it all a whole lot better for all of us.
“Perfect Game provides a huge platform for these kids to showcase their abilities,” he concluded. “When you can put five or six hundred kids together, the scouts are going to be more receptive to come out because they can see all the kids in one spot. There’s just no doubt that this is beneficial for the kids.”