It was just another day at the office for Genoa junior Alex Hayes.
Hayes, a junior shortstop/pitcher, went 3-for-4 with a run, a walk and one steal in the Comets’ 15-13 win over rival Woodmore, raising his Northern Buckeye Conference-leading batting average to .557. A couple days later, Hayes doubled twice and pitched five strong innings in the Comets’ 7-5 win over the Wildcats.
“Alex is a real success story and is a developing talent,” second-year Genoa coach Ron Rightnowar said. “He has a beautiful swing. I’m not surprised, because he is one of the rare kids who can repeat his swing, like a great golfer. One thing is developing the swing and then being able to repeat it. That’s the way he is at the plate. He’s able to repeat his swing and take consistent swings. He just stays with it and he trusts it.”
Hayes is 29-for-52 at the plate, with 18 runs, 21 RBI and eight stolen bases for Genoa, 13-6 and 7-2 after nipping host Eastwood, 3-2, in nine innings behind a 10-hit team effort and the effort of winning pitcher Matt Aumiller. Hayes’ contribution is unmistakable.
“I definitely put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Hayes, 17, said. “My coaches helped me out with my swing tremendously. Last year I was a a dead-pull hitter and they’ve worked with me on working on outside pitches and driving them. I gained a lot of weight, about 30 pounds (he is 5-foot-10, 170), and strength from the last year. I’m also a starting defensive back, and my uncle (Tom Wojciechowski) is big on weight lifting and protein shakes.”
Hayes’ story is about determination, pushing forward, learning from his mistakes and learning to trust his new teammates and coaches.
He attended Genoa Schools in grade school before moving into the Lake school system. He played outfield for the Flyers as a freshman, but family issues made him decide to move in with his Uncle Tom, his wife, Jodi, and their three sons in Genoa. Tom became Hayes’ legal guardian.
“It wasn’t too hard for me,” Hayes said of the move. “I went to Genoa in my earlier years. I transferred to Lake for probably four years and then came back to Genoa. My first year (last season) they had coach Rightnowar and I had to get to know him. We had long practices and I had to try to bond with hm. It was tough, just to know what kind of person he was and for him to figure out what kind of kids we were.
“There were definitely times where we butted heads. I’m a competitor, so sometimes when I get talked to, I get hard headed. He knows what he’s talking about, so I trust him.”
Rightnowar, a former major league pitcher, now practically raves about Hayes’ personal turnaround after a rough start last year. Hayes was Genoa’s No. 2 pitcher last season and wasn’t nearly the hitter he has been this season. Hayes said he batted in the mid-.300s last spring.
“Last year was kind of a transition year for him,” Rightnowar said. “He transferred from Lake his freshman year and he was an on-the-edge kid. His uncle intervened and took him in, and so he came over to Genoa. He’s coming over and learning new kids, a new coach…I’m really proud of him. He’s learning to battle his emotions and learning how to handle adversity. It’s rewarding for a coach to see a kid develop, not only as a player but to see the progress being made as a human being and his character. That’s made it special for me. It hasn’t always been smooth, but it’s gone progressively better every day we’ve been together.”
Hayes moved in to an already busy household with the Wojciechowskis, who have three sons — Tommy, 23, Casey, 20, and Jake, a sophomore center fielder for the Comets.
“It’s worked out great,” Hayes said. “Jake and I have always been super close, basically like brothers. Casey still lives at home and we all get along really well. They all helped me and supported me when I was going through some problems, along with Coach Ron. Tom has done a lot of things for me. He’s basically like a father figure to me and I can talk to him about anything. We have a great relationship.”
Hayes, a right-hander who relies on a two- and four-seam fastball and a curveball, is 2-4 on the mound with a 2.81 ERA. In 32 innings he has allowed 27 hits and struck out 23 as Genoa’s No. 1 pitcher.
“He’s just a steady kid,” Rightnowar said. “He consistently throws the ball in the strike zone. If we’d played better defense this year, he would have a better record.”
Hayes said he’s getting better at handling his emotions when things don’t go right on the mound.
“There are some games we probably should have won, with a few (less) errors here and there,” he said. “I’ve definitely gotten better, especially since last year. Coach Ron helps me out a lot. He’s pointing out not just winning the game, but winning the fight within myself and staying positive.”
Whether or not Hayes can maintain a .500 batting average the rest of the season remains to be seen.
“I try not to let it get to my head too much,” Hayes said. “I always have to think ‘team first.’ At the end of the day, it’s about getting the runs in and getting the win. It’s nice to have that personal success, but we’re all real close and it’s all about the team. That helps me focus.”