By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Swing Away: Alabama A&M LaDale Hayes
By Chuck Curti
Updated: April 13, 2007
PIKESVILLE, Md. — To a young child, $1.00 is a lot of money. One dollar was all it took to bribe LaDale Hayes into playing baseball. Hayes, in his sophomore season at Alabama A&M, is hopeful that baseball will bring him a lot more money some day.
“That’s always in the back of my mind,” said Hayes, an agriculture and business management major who wants to pursue a career with the USDA if baseball doesn’t pan out. “I want to go to the next level. But I know I have to keep working hard.”
Going pro is a lofty goal, especially for someone who resisted baseball as a youth. Hayes said that his father, Edward, a Navy man, signed him up for baseball at age six. Though his brother, LaRon, nine years older, had played baseball, LaDale didn’t have much interest.
But, Hayes said, he took to it naturally. When he was “8 or 9,” his coach offered him $1 if he could hit a home run. In his next at bat, Hayes hit a long one, then scurried as fast as his little legs would carry him.
He earned that dollar. And he’s been hooked on baseball ever since. Hayes did try other sports growing up. He tried out for basketball in middle school, but didn’t make the team.
He also played football, but when his family moved during his high school days – he wound up graduating from Colonial Forge High School in Stafford , Va. – he shied away from football because of the unfamiliarity with his new surroundings.
But always, there was baseball. His talent began to catch the eye of recruiters, and Hayes was determined to have a big junior year. That’s when many high school athletes really begin to blossom and get noticed by colleges.
Then, Hayes was struck with Crohn’s disease, a severe inflammation of the digestive tract. “I was in pain all the time,” said Hayes. “It hurt to cough, to laugh. And it hurt not to be able to play.
“Any time you’re hurt, you wonder if you’re ever going to be able to play again. That was in my mind, but it all worked out in the end.”
Surgery was required to correct the effects of the Crohn’s, and Hayes must take medication for the rest of his life. But through the urging of his mother, Yvonne Hayes, he has been able to come back stronger than before.
“My mom is the reason I’m striving to make the next level,” said Hayes. “With my dad away a lot in the Navy, my mom was basically the one making me practice. “She’s always positive, but she’s hard on me, too. She never lets me get too low or too high on myself. She’s a real inspiration.”
Hayes began getting overtures from colleges. He said most of the interest was from NCAA Division II schools, but he wanted to play Division I. After the death of his grandfather, his family went to Birmingham , Ala. , for the funeral.
They happened to pass Alabama A&M on the way, and Hayes said he thought it looked like a nice school. The coaches at AAMU thought he looked like a nice baseball player, and he was offered some scholarship money to be a Bulldog.
It turned out to be a good investment. Hayes, an outfielder, earned team MVP as a freshman after finishing second among the Bulldogs with a .371 batting average and leading them in hits and runs scored.
This season, through 30 games, Hayes is leading the team in almost every important offensive category: batting average (.356), runs (29), hits (37), doubles (9), triples (8), homers (3), RBIs (21), total bases (71) and slugging percentage (.683).
“I think LaDale is one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” said AAMU coach Jay Martin, who was an assistant coach at Tuskegee before taking over the Bulldogs this year. “He hits well, he’s a great athlete and he has one of the best arms I’ve ever seen. And, he’s hungry for the game.”
In the Bulldogs’ season-opening four-game winning streak, which included wins over Savannah State and Norfolk State, Hayes hit .600 (9 for 15) with two doubles, two triples, 6 runs scored and 5 RBIs.
His first homer of the year, which came on March 3 against Jackson State in Huntsville , was also his first collegiate homer – and his mother missed it. She came to watch the Bulldogs play that day, but arrived too late to see the homer.
That was the start of a slump for Hayes and the Bulldogs. The homer was AAMU’s only run in a 5-1 loss to Jackson State . That started a six-game slide for the Bulldogs that saw them drop from 6-6 to 6-12.
Hayes hit .100 (2 for 20) in that stretch.“I finally got my hitting together,” said Hayes, who broke the slump with a four-run, three-hit, three-RBI performance in a 16-2 win over Alabama State on March 11.
“I know you’re not going to be perfect in baseball, but I try to be. I’m also striving to be more of a clutch player.” He’s also trying to be more of a leader. He believes that with his talented sophomore class and a strong freshman class, AAMU is poised for big things.
“When we’re all on the same page, we can beat some good teams,” said Hayes. “I think next year we’re going to be really good. I think we can win the SWAC next year.”
And he’ll bet you a dollar.