By STEVE KRAH
Hayden Jones has already been in Starkville, Miss., for a couple weeks, getting acclimated to classes and baseball at Mississippi State University.
The lefty-swinging catcher and 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate will take a break this weekend when he participates in the 44th annual Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series at Four Winds Field in downtown South Bend.
Hayden, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, will be on the North squad and representing not only the Carroll Chargers but one of the state’s famous baseball families.
One of the founding members of the IHSBCA was Hayden’s grandfather, Bill Jones. A former head coach at DeKalb High School in Waterloo, Ind., and Canterbury School in Fort Wayne, Ind., the elder Jones served for decades as the association’s secretary-treasurer and then acted as executive director.
Bill Jones coached DeKalb to an IHSAA state championship in 1980 and was added to the IHSBCA Hall of Fame in 1982. His teams won 751 games. Jones died in 2015.
One of Bill and Mildred Jones’ sons — Ken Jones — was a catcher at DeKalb, where he graduated in 1990. He redshirted his freshman year at Western Michigan University, where he played four seasons and was an all-conference performer and academic All-American. He was selected in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and played that summer in the minors. Ken was an assistant coach at Ball State University and Western Michigan and is now the senior lead instructor at the World Baseball Academy in Fort Wayne.
Ken and Jennifer Jones’ only child is Hayden.
Did his grandpa and father have an impact on his baseball career?
“Big time,” says Hayden. “Dad and Grandpa pushed me to the best of my ability. They taught me about being a leader on the field and hustling all the time. Even if it’s a grounder to second base, you 100 percent down he first base line. They expected that out of me or my cousins.”
Hayden learned something else he considers valuable.
“When a coach stops yelling at you is the time he gives up on you,” says Hayden. “Players nowadays are coddled. They don’t want people to push them like back in the old days.
“When a coach yells at me it’s getting me better.”
During his early arrival at college, he has already been getting pushed.
“They’re on your tail constantly,” says Hayden. “That gets you better in the long run.”
Hayden verbally committed to Mississippi State two summers ago and stuck with that decision through several head coaching changes. When he picked the Bulldogs from among 17 NCAA Division I programs that showed serious interest, John Cohen was the head coach. Since then, the Diamond Dawgs have been led by Andy Cannizaro, Gary Henderson and now former Indiana University coach Chris Lemonis.
Hayden’s father had told him that there is always the potential for coaching changes in college baseball.
“I committed to a good program and a good school,” says Hayden, who is one of 10 Mississippi State recruits to enroll in summer school and plans to major in turf management. “I wasn’t going to de-commit. They made a commitment to me with a scholarship.”
While he played in the Prep Baseball Report Future Games, Hayden did not appear in too many showcase events. With all his dad’s relationships in college baseball, Hayden and Ken picked three apiece and the young catcher went to their camps and had follow-up visits. Most of those made scholarship offers.
“That’s the way we feel it should be done,” says Hayden.
He was about 6 when his father gave Hayden an old set of catching gear, but he spent quite a bit of time as a pitcher and third baseman before getting more reps behind the plate at 12. Ken coached Hayden with the Flippin’ Frogs travel team from age 9 to 17.
“He was always around older guys and seeing a faster pace of play,” says Ken. “He has been getting a little bit of extra instruction along the way.”
Last summer, the Flippin’ Frogs played in the Indiana Summer Collegiate League.
Hayden has taken advantage of his dad’s baseball know-how.
“He’s really pushed me, but it was fun for me,” says Hayden. “I got to see and learn from my dad.”
Hayden, who grew up around Huntertown, Ind., and turned 18 in April, says it’s the family joke that he’s out to prove he’s a better catcher than his father was.
With a “pop” time of 1.72 seconds and a throw clocked at 89 mph, Hayden’s arm turns heads.
“I can keep runners close on the bases,” says Hayden, who’s also adept at receiving pitches, blocking balls in the dirt and handling pitchers.
Hayden considers him as gap hitter who can hit to both the opposite field and pull-side. Ken says his son chose to hit lefty because he watched most of Western Michigan’s lineup hit from that side as a small boy.
“He decided that’s how you’re supposed to do it,” says Ken.
“I can get the ball in play where it needs to be in certain situations,” says Hayden, who hit .545 with 10 home runs and 30 runs batted in as a Class 4A first-team all-stater for a Carroll team coached by Dave Ginder.
“He’s an awesome man,” says Hayden of Ginder. “He pushes you just like my grandpa would. He will make you a better person and a better ballplayer.”
Even after the season and graduation, Hayden and Ginder stay connected through FaceTime. A math teacher, Ginder has been able to help Jones with his Mississippi State homework. “He’s there to support you know matter what.”
Ginder coached Carroll to back-to-back state IHSAA Class 4A titles in 2010 and 2011.
That’s when Hayden was playing with the Frogs while at least two years younger than most of his teammates.
“That team was about development and learning,” says Hayden. “We were not trophy chasers.”
The core of the squad that went all the way through with Hayden ended up in college baseball — Nick Chao (Wabash College), Alec Craig (Danville Area Community College), Parker Noll (Wabash College), Skyler Noll (Indiana Tech) and Thomas Parker (Anderson University).
“The Frogs were like brothers,” says Hayden. “Thomas Parker always helped me like an older brother. If I’d get lazy in the (batting) cage, he’d always make sure I was working as hard as I could.”
Hayden sees advantages and disadvantages to being an only child.
“I’m the focus of our family,” says Hayden. “Mom and dad have always been there to support me on and off the field. Mom went from office job to working from home so she could drive me to practice.
“The disadvantage is I can’t blame anybody else if I get in trouble.”
IHSBCA NORTH/SOUTH ALL-STAR SERIES
(At South Bend)
Friday, July 20
Junior Showcase (Four Winds Field), 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
North practice (Four Winds Field), 1:15 to 3 p.m.
South practice (Four Winds Field), 3 to 4:45 p.m.
Banquet (Great Room at Century Center), 7 p.m. Keynote speaker is Greg Kloosterman (former Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College standout who pitched in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and now runs the Game Changers travel organization in Canonsburg, Pa.). Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for 10-and-under.
Saturday, July 21
(Four Winds Field)
Pregame with South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg and posthumous tributes to IHSBCA founders and Hall of Famers Jim Reinebold and Ken Schreiber, 11:35 a.m.
First pitch for doubleheader, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.
Sunday, July 22
First pitch for single wood-bat game, noon. Admission is $5. Commemorative T-shirts will sell for $10 and $15 apiece depending on size.
Note: This year marks the fourth time the series has come to South Bend. It was staged at Clay Park in 1976, Coveleski Stadium (now known at Four Winds Field) in 1989 and Notre Dame in 2008 … The North leads the all-time series 65-61, dating back to 1975.
Hayden Jones, a 2018 Fort Wayne Carroll High School graduate, is an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association first-team all-stater and North/South Series All-Star. The catcher is going to Mississippi State University.