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Fellow-Baseball Nuts! There are plenty of baseball blogs out there but few better than this guy. Check the latest offering from Royals fan Joe Posnanski:
OMAHA, Neb. | Well, I’ve written about many things in this space for the last 13 years or so, but I suppose the theme has always been dreams. That this isn’t everyone’s speed, I know. There were always some who wanted more anger here, more scepticism, more calls for change, more attacks on the players and coaches and teams that lost.
I understand. But one of the lessons you learn in life is that you have to try and stay true to yourself. As a columnist, you have to write about what speaks to you. In Omaha, I watch Alex Gordon mope his way through a Class AAA game. Gordon, of course, was the second pick in the 2005 amateur draft, the can’t-miss prospect, the Midwestern kid with the George Brett swing and the swagger in his walk. Now, after two patchy big-leagues seasons and a third scarred by injuries and strikeouts, he’s here in Omaha, barking at umpires seemingly after every pitch, walking with his shoulders slumped, looking for all the world like someone who has been wronged by life.
They call Chris Hayes “Disco” because he throws in the 70s. Isn’t that beautiful? Everything about Disco Hayes is like that — funny and self-deprecating but also oddly confident. Disco Hayes believes he will get out big-league hitters. He doesn’t believe that he can get them out. He believes he will. And no one yet has shaken that belief.
Oh, Disco is a smart guy — a Northwestern grad with a computer science degree. He understands why people may think that an undrafted pitcher who throws sidearm fastballs at 78 mph isn’t a big-league prospect. He sympathizes with those people. Hey, if Disco didn’t know better, he might think the same thing. But he does know better.
“I can’t really explain it,” he says, and while he’s talking, he and his wife, Tracy, hold hands. “I’ve just always believed in my ability to pitch.”
“We know we’re going to have a long career in the big leagues,” Tracy says.
Who can explain that sort of confidence? Disco Hayes showed up at a Royals tryout back in 2006. He was out in Arizona on money he did not really have to try out for teams that had shown only vague interest — the White Sox, the Padres. Someone mentioned that the Royals were having a tryout camp. An Abbott and Costello skit followed.
“Where?” Disco asked.
“Surprise,” the guy said.
“What’s the surprise?” Disco asked.
“The town,” the guy said.
“The tryout is going to be in a surprise town?” Disco asked.
“Exactly,” the guy said.
And so on. Eventually, Disco found his way. When he arrived at the tryout, he saw a collection of 40- and 50-year-old men — one wearing work boots. He heard a Royals official ask if anyone there had major-league experience. Disco snickered, then noticed that seven or eight people were holding their hands up in the air. He suddenly realized that this wasn’t a tryout camp so much as a graveyard for broken dreams. While he pitched, he noticed a Royals scout behind him with a radar gun. He had mixed emotions. It was nice to be noticed. But radar guns were never kind to Disco Hayes.
The next day, the Royals called to offer him a contract. Joy. His friend found Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City” on Disco’s iPod, and the two of them listened and sang along and talked about how this crazy dream really was coming true. At that point, Chris Hayes had never made an All-Star team. Never. Not in college. Not in high school. Not in Little League. Not in tee-ball. He still thought he would pitch in the big leagues.
He pitched quite well in Class A Burlington — 2.66 ERA, three times as many strikeouts as walks. The Royals were unimpressed — they sent him back. He pitched almost as well the second time around in Burlington — 3.10 ERA and again three times as many strikeouts as walks. The Royals were impressed this time, impressed enough to call up Chris Hayes and offer him an executive internship within the organization. They told him he could have a big future in the front office.
And that’s when Chris and Tracy did a little soul searching. Here was a real offer — an offer many of his friends would love to get. Here was a chance to really work for a big-league team. Of course he turned it down. The Royals told him he was a longshot to make any team. At spring training, he did not give up a single run.
“You never gave us a chance to release you,” a Royals official said with admiration in his voice. Disco Hayes went to Class AA Northwest Arkansas and went 5-2 with a 1.64 ERA and, yes, three times as many strikeouts as walks. The Royals one more time refused to believe those numbers were real; they sent him back to Northwest Arkansas this year. He went 3-0 with an 0.98 ERA and three times as many strikeouts as walks. And one more time, the Royals had no choice. They sent him to Class AAA Omaha. And here he is, after all these crazy years, three hours and one call away from the show.
There’s a famous story — or, anyway, famous in Kansas City baseball circles — about the first time Royals manager Jim Frey saw Dan Quisenberry pitch. Quiz had pitched very well in the minor leagues, but nobody really knew why. He threw sidearm then — he would soon throw submarine style — and he threw preposterously slow. As he would say, his slider didn’t slide, his curveball didn’t curve and his change-up didn’t change a thing.
“Are you throwing as hard as you can?” Frey asked.
Quiz nodded. That was as hard as he could throw.
“And is that your curveball?” Frey asked.
Quiz nodded again. That was his best curveball.
Frey nodded and then gave his summation of Dan Quisenberry’s talents. “Holy (BLEEP)!” he muttered, and he walked off.
I tell that story to Disco Hayes. After all, Quisenberry became the best relief pitcher in Royals history — maybe the best pitcher in Royals history, period. Disco laughs — times change and times don’t change. Almost 30 years later, the Royals have another bright, funny and driven right-handed relief pitcher who throws submarine style and leaves baseball people shaking their heads in dismay.
“You know what I would like to do?” Disco says. “I would love it if they would take all the relievers who throw 95 mph and put them in one group. And then take all the relievers who throw submarine style like I do and put them in another. And then compare their ERAs. I wonder what that would show.”
Well, I don’t know what it would show overall, but it’s worth noting that the Royals do have a bullpen filled with guys who throw extremely hard. Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Robinson Tejeda and Roman Colon all have mid-to-high 90s fastballs. They have a combined ERA of 5.56.
The funny thing about baseball is that people will believe what they want to believe. Nobody in the game will watch Kyle Farnsworth give up runs and conclude: “Well, apparently guys who throw 100 mph can’t get people out in the big leagues.” But it’s that way with the submarine pitchers. Disco Hayes has hit a bit of a rough patch the last three weeks in Omaha — his ERA has jumped from around 3.00 to 4.78 — and he knows there are people who conclude that he has hit his ceiling, that Disco Time was fun while it lasted, but a pitcher can’t get batters out throwing in the 70s.
Of course, he doesn’t worry about it. He can’t worry about it. He will pitch in the big leagues. Three years ago, after his unlikely signing with the Royals, Hayes found a cheap flight and came down to watch a couple of games at Kauffman Stadium. His favorite part was the fountains, of course. And ever since then, he has had this mantra that has played over and over again in his mind: “Listen to the fountains.”
Disco says that’s what he tries to do when the doubts and doubters shout in his ears. Listen to the fountains. Maybe the Royals will offer him a September call-up to the big leagues next week. Maybe they won’t. Maybe he will get a chance to pitch winter ball. Maybe he won’t. Maybe the Royals will be the team to give him the chance that Chris Hayes believes is his destiny. And then again, maybe they won’t.
Does it matter? No. Not today it doesn’t. This is the thing about sports that endlessly fascinates me. Kurt Warner believed he would be a star NFL quarterback. Maurice Greene believed he would run 100 meters faster than any man before him. Tom Watson believed he could win one more British Open, even with an artificial hip and his 60th birthday closing in. Bill Snyder believed he could turn Kansas State football into a winner. Bill Self believed his team could come back in the final seconds. Priest Holmes believed he could score more touchdowns in a season than anyone before him.
And Disco Hayes believes he will have a long and fun career pitching major-league baseball. Do all dreams come true? Of course not. Most of them don’t. But maybe the point is not about them coming true. Maybe the point is trying, and listening to the fountains.
Ponanski, Joe 2009 ‘Disco Hayes defies the odds in Royals’ system’, Kansas City Star. http://www.kansascity.com/180/story/1412928.html#