Corey Haines arrived at his interview for coach of the Alexandria Aces carrying a playbook with at least 15 pages on base running alone. Don Dinan, team CEO, was duly impressed.
The team offered him a one-year contract not long after, putting the 22-year-old in charge of the citys summer wooden bat college league team, a squad of players barely Haines junior.
[He has] a very strong, in-depth knowledge of the game, Dinan said, nearly a month into the teams fourth season in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League. I think that sums it up. Hes a very impressive young man, hardworking and dedicated.
Haines, the youngest coach in the league, dismisses any questions about his age. He learned how to earn the respect of players roughly his own age as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland.
I dont like to compare [us] against other teams or players, so I dont really care who is in the other dugout, Haines says briskly over a cup of coffee and leaves the topic of his relative youth at that. Nearly 10 hours before the teams next matchup with Youses Orioles, Haines already dons his Aces uniform.
But there have been mistakes to learn from for the young coach as the Aces hit the seasons midpoint. In the ninth inning of what would become the second or third game of a six-game slump, down 2-1 with runners on first and second and no outs, Haines recalls not signaling for a bunt.
The batter hit into a double play, he remembers. The next man on the roster promptly hit a fly ball an easy out.
That was the game. Nine innings boiled down into one missed opportunity.
It was really hard for me to go home, knowing I had done everything to win that game, knowing it was my fault for not bunting in that situation Haines said. I beat myself up that night.
The six-game losing streak, shattered in an 8-3 victory against the Herndon Braves on June 11, gave way to five consecutive wins, the longest winning streak in the Aces short history.
Haines even cracked a smile after the fifth victory, Dinan said with a chuckle.
A FRUSTRATING GAME
A Maryland native, Haines start in baseball is a familiar story. Following in the footsteps of his father, a high school ballplayer, Haines went from the Little League baseball diamond to the high school team and then college ball.
Before transferring to UMD in 2008 Haines decided to put his playing days behind him, but he couldnt shake the sports grip. Instead of trying out for a spot on the Terrapins roster, he got a position on the coaching staff.
Even now, Haines seems amazed hes stuck with such a frustrating game.
Its a game of failure, he said. A .300 [batting] average is good, but it means youre failing 70 percent of the time That leads to a lot of frustration. It leads to kids and college guys getting frustrated and moving on to something else.
He credits his affection for baseball with a taste of success. His high school enjoyed a stint as state champions, and Haines regularly made all-star teams. Drifting away from the sport wasnt an option.
I loved baseball and I wanted to be around it, he said. I wanted to be around the game and the program I grew up liking the Terps.
EYES FIXED ON THE PLAYOFFS
Dinan doesnt consider Haines hiring a risky endeavor. The 22-year-old came highly recommended, endorsed by Terps head coach Erik Bakich.
Still, the first time I met him, I thought he was awfully young too, Dinan said.
Haines maturity and his drive fit with the Aces program, according to Dinan. They want to win; Haines wants to win.
But theyre also looking for someone with the ability to mold the college squad into real ballplayers.
Were here not only to develop baseball talent, but young men, Dinan said. We want to win and we try to win and he really wants to win. We thought he had the skills and the maturity to achieve that, but there are other things were trying to achieve.
For his part, Haines has his sight set on the postseason and if the Aces make it, the playoff run will be the first in team history.
It would be an experience Haines would relish.
I like having the game on the line, he said. I like making those decisions.