By Mary Ringwald, Staff Writer

Bellarmine baseball players stand in the outfield during practice. The crack of a bat sets the outfielders into motion, but a few players remain behind the plate. Senior Zach Haynes is among them, slowly rotating his bat as he readies himself for the next pitch. But it was not always like this.

Haynes’ true position was only few steps in front of him in the middle of the field. A circle at the center of diamond where all plays are controlled by one quick motion of an arm. The mound.

After graduating from Lexington Catholic High School, Haynes was a top Division I pitching prospect whose 90 mph fastball and continuous strikeouts caught the attention of Indiana University.

He worked countless hours before reaching Indiana’s Bart Kaufman Field, but his preparation was cut short as his strikes began to lose their consistency.

Within the next two years, he would have surgery to repair four tears in his right labrum and a second surgery to repair his right rotator cuff.

“I always had some shoulder problems, but it never really flared up until the summer before I went to IU,” Haynes said. “I was struggling to throw a strike, my velocity was up and down and it didn’t really hurt yet, but I knew something felt weird.”

It was that strange feeling that called for a transition, which involved his leaving Indiana for the rolling hills of Bellarmine University during his freshman year.

Bellarmine senior third baseman Cole Metcalfe remembered the day Haynes contacted him about the possibility of joining the Knights baseball team.

“It was something like, ‘Wow! How did we land Zach? He will be our ace next year and we should be really good,’” Metcalfe said.

The team expected to rise in the rankings with its new pitching addition. Instead, the players were disappointed as the pain in Haynes’s shoulder grew worse.

“It was almost a relief when I got my shoulder MRI back that said something was wrong,” Haynes said. “Instead of not being good, I had a reason and it could be fixed.”

When he returned to the mound after recovering from labrum surgery, he changed his pitching routine so he could keep throwing, but it resulted in a torn rotator cuff and the loss of his pitching abilities.

But his love for the game did not waiver.

“He has been through a lot with two arm surgeries,” Knights head coach Larry Owens said. “Those surgeries took away what he loved to do, and I am sure that’s tough on him, but he doesn’t show it.”

Pitching was a huge part of Haynes baseball career, but he was willing to try something new.

He talked to his coaches about becoming a designated hitter after his second surgery.

“I hit in the cages a month and a half before I hit on the field just because I hadn’t swung a bat in five years,” Haynes said. “I eventually did well enough to become one of the designated hitters.”

Haynes has contributed a .200 batting average after 10 at-bats in his senior season after his year-long adjustment from a pitcher to a designated hitter. His three years of rehab and hard work paid off, and he also became one of the team’s most respected leaders along the way.

Many of his underclassmen teammates look up to him for his ability to bring everyone together to work hard and have fun.

Sophomore outfielder and right-handed pitcher Griffin Neuer started playing baseball with Haynes at a young age and continued to play with him in high school. He said that he was a mentor to him throughout his high school years.

“I think he brings everyone together,” Neuer said. “When I was on varsity my sophomore year of high school, being around him made it easy because I really didn’t know any of the other guys. He made it easy for me to fit it and took me in.”

Haynes’ acceptance of change made him stronger and gave him a better outlook on his future. He is currently working toward his master’s in business administration at Bellarmine and will graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

He said he is looking forward to his life after baseball but is appreciative of the lessons he learned from baseball throughout the years.

“One big lesson is failure and how you deal with failure,” Haynes said. “The average baseball player has to deal with failure seven out of 10 times, and mine goes past that since I have been hurt. You also learn how to move on from things and that there are other things in life.”

He said he hopes his teammates will also realize that there is more in life than the game, but he encourages them to have as much fun as possible because there is plenty of opportunity out there.

“Have fun, but work hard because you never know where baseball is going to take you,” Haynes said. “It could take you to the next level and you could do really well, or it could fall apart in an instant. Never sacrifice anything by not working hard.”

Haynes steps up to the plate and digs his foot into the ground. He makes eye contact with the pitcher then keeps his eyes on the ball. He rotates his bat and swings through, watching the ball fly across the field and feeling the accomplishment of his hard work as he rounds the bases heading for home.

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