Hair-raising experience for Hair – Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — During last Thursday’s afternoon downpour, the Princeton Rays found ways to keep themselves busy while waiting to learn if the game with Elizabethton would be rained out (it was.)
There’s a neuroscience program the players engage in on the clubhouse computer. There’s conversation. There’s reading. And there’s eating. And then there’s card-playing. In fact, cards may be the most ubiquitous activity you’ll see during down time. But they aren’t playing poker.
“It’s a game called (Pusoy Dos). It’s a little bit confusing but it’s just a fun game that a lot of people can play. So it’s a good card game for the clubhouse,” said Princeton second baseman Trey Hair.
“It’s kind of like Hearts and Spades mixed. The suits have rankings and then you go by doubles, five-card hands or singles. It’s pretty complicated unless you sit down and actually try to play it.”
“It’s all for fun. If we have time, we play. If we run out of time in the middle of the game, we have to stop. We don’t get too intense. We just play and have fun,” said Hair, who played baseball and football at Norris High School in Firth, Nebraska.
Hair has come a long way in baseball since he led Norris to its first state championship during a senior season that saw him hit .495 and earn Louisville Slugger All-American status. He continued to play shortstop for two seasons at Fort South Community College, converting to second base when he moved to play NCAA Division I baseball for the University of Evansville, Indiana.
“It was a little different at first but I wouldn’t say it’s harder. Second base is a pretty relaxed position compared to shortstop and third base,” said Hair, who has turned a team-leading 18 double plays at Princeton.
“You have a little more time to react to balls. There are a lot more backing-up opportunities at second base than at shortstop, so it’s just knowing where you have to be at all times during the game,” he said.
After being drafted by Tampa Bay in the 38th round of the 2017 draft, he figured a hard-nosed, professional clubhouse culture would be one of the first big adjustments he would face. He is happy to report that wasn’t remotely the case.
“I thought it was going to be a lot different. I thought it was going to be a whole lot of people just worried about themselves. But it’s really not that way,” Hair said.
“We have some pretty good character people in our clubhouse. It’s a really good atmosphere to be in. To be with all the different cultures, it’s still a lot of fun to be in there and interacting with everyone. Even if they don’t speak a lot of English, they still know enough to have a really good conversation and they’re all good people,” he said.
Like most of his Princeton Rays teammates, his defensive acumen is pretty self-evident when you see him play. His batting hasn’t been too shabby either. Headed into Saturday’s games with Pulaski, he was hitting .278 with five home runs, nine double and 26 RBIs.
“He’s done well. He’s swung the bat very well. He’s driving in a lot of runs,” said Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer.
“For a guy that’s not 6-foot-3, he drives the ball pretty well. He’s acclimated very well to pro ball and he’s played pretty decent second base.”
If you met Hair on the street wearing his powerfully structured 5-foot-10, 185 pound frame, you wouldn’t think of him as a small person. But in professional sports, he well understands what end of the size spectrum he is on. He is not discouraged in the least. He was a wide receiver and cornerback on his high school football team. Toughness translates.
“In sports, even in baseball, I’m pretty small,” Hair said, laughing. “I just have to know that I have to go out and compete and never take a day off because I’m smaller than everybody else. I’m trying to let my ability show, that even at my height I can compete at this level and at any other level.”
Sheaffer certainly doesn’t think Hair’s height will in any way impede his ability to advance in the game, particularly at his position. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is 5-foot-6 and considered to be one of the best all-around players in the game today. Dustin Pedroia, second baseman for the Boston Red Sox, is 5-9.
“You find a giant once in a while, but you also find the Pedroias and the Altuves. Jeff Bagwell is going in the Hall of Fame this week and Jeff Bagwell is not a real big man either,” said Sheaffer.
“I’m not going to say that the little man doesn’t have a chance in this game. (Hair) has got as good a chance as anybody. At the end of the day, it’s about numbers, it’s not about pictures. Everybody would like to be 6-foot-3, 210 and hitting balls out of the ball park. But baseball is a beautiful game. In baseball it doesn’t matter. All you’ve got to do us put up numbers,” he said.
Hair hasn’t done badly for himself as far as that goes, but he’d certainly like to do better. Like most ambitious rookie league players, he spends a lot of time with a bat in his hand.
“We’ve all been doing pretty well hitting. I know all of us, myself included, have some ups and downs. But we just keep the right approach and keep putting in time early and after games just getting our swing down and trying to perfect our craft,” said Hair, who agreed that velocity is the biggest difference between the pitching he saw playing for the Purple Aces and the pitching he’s seeing now.
“It’s definitely been the velocity. College pitchers can compete with three competitive pitchers and that makes it tough at the college level. But here their fastball is a little bit quicker. They may not have as good off-speed but they can locate their fastball if they’re good enough and that can be a challenge in itself,” Hair said.
If all goes perfectly for Hair’s professional career, one day he may associate crisp autumn air with baseball playoffs. For now, he’s still a little wistful for the gridiron when fall rolls around, being, as he is, a product of Nebraska’s thriving small town football culture. The Cornhuskers have a new quarterback and hope springs eternal. Being a spectator will have to suffice.
In the meantime, he’s grown accustomed to what kind of clubhouse he can walk into and be welcomed as one of the everyday guys. He’s happy to be here.
“We have really good infielders all the way around. It’s fun to be able to play with these good players and being able to turn double plays as much as we’ve done this year has been a lot of fun,” Hair said.
“I just love coming out here hanging out with all these guys. Just being able to play the game. I’ve been playing baseball since I was a little kid. So, being able to get this opportunity to keep playing after college, it’s just a great feeling to come out and play with other guys who have the same goal as me,” he said.