GLENVILLE — Charlie Hayes did a lot of good things on the field in his time with the New York Yankees, but it was that clinching catch in the 1996 World Series that cemented his place in team lore.
“I think about it every day,” Hayes said Saturday before a group of youngsters, their family members and coaches at Indian Meadows Park. “I think about where I came from. How hard I worked.”
Giving an all-out effort was just one of the points the 14-year Major League veteran imparted on the 9-and-under players who had taken a break from the games at the BH-BL Junior Baseball Summer Slam Tournament and gathered under a pavilion to listen.
“Work hard. Never give up. Believe in yourself,” Hayes said before signing autographs in a meet-and-greet session. “Trust your coaches because they know what they’re doing. Always do the right thing.”
Years ago while growing up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Hayes was in the same shoes as the kids he was talking to.
“I started out like you guys. I always dreamed of being a Major League player,” Hayes said to them. “Sometimes, I didn’t think it was going to work out. As a kid one summer, I think I struck out every time. I wasn’t very good and I cried a lot.”
Hayes said he wished he could have had a Major League player come talk to and inspire him and his friends when he was playing Little League ball.
“You saw your heroes on TV. Games were on Saturday and Monday night,” Hayes said. “My favorite player was Al Kaline.”
Hayes never reached the status of Kaline, the Detroit Tigers great and Baseball Hall of Fame member, but the third baseman did have a solid career in which he batted .262 with 144 home runs and 740 RBIs.
“I was pretty shocked when I heard a Yankee player was coming,” said 9-year-old Luca Kelly, who pitches and plays shortstop for the tournament host Burnt Hills team. “He was one of their best players. It’s pretty amazing that he made the final out in the championship game.”
Hayes played for seven teams, including the Yankees in 1992 and again at the tail end of 1996 and in 1997.
In Game 6 of the 1996 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, he caught Mark Lemke’s pop up in foul territory behind third base to end the contest as the Yankees secured their first World Series championship since 1978.
“It was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it happened,” Hayes said of his series-clinching catch. “I didn’t know what to do. Jump. Run. I broke my finger on the play before.”
Joe DiCocco, a 71-year-old Scotia resident and Mont Pleasant graduate, was at that game at Yankee Stadium, and Saturday after the kids got their autographs he, too, had some items signed.
“Look where he [Hayes] started, and he wins a World Series. How many guys get to do that?” said DiCocco, a lifelong Yankees fan. “Who knows? One of these kids could be playing pro ball some day.”
One of the kids asked Hayes who was the best teammate he had.
“There’s two guys,” Hayes responded. “[Barry] Bonds because he was the best player. The other guy was Derek Jeter. He was a great teammate. I remember when I went 0-for-4 and he went 4-for-4, and he was more worried about me than celebrating his 4-for-4.”
Aside from the Yankees and San Francisco Giants with whom he played with Bonds in 1998 and 1999, Hayes spent time with Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros in a run that concluded in 2001.
“I wasn’t the best player on the team, but I wanted to be the best player for the team,” Hayes said. “I did all the little things you don’t see in a box score. I ran out every ball. I gave it my all.”
While Hayes emphasized hustle on the field, he also expressed to the youngsters the need for a good education.
“Do your school work. It’s very important,” Hayes said. “There’s no promise. Remember that, guys.”
“I think this shows what kind of guy he is,” Schenectady coach Ryan Bouck said of Hayes’ appearance. “When a player of that level does this, it shows his personality.”
Hayes had a meet-and-greet at James Chevrolet in Johnstown earlier Saturday, and has clinics scheduled Sunday with the Broadalbin-Perth and Guilderland Little Leagues.
“I want to be positive,” Hayes said. “There is so much going on where we could be negative. I want to see smiles.”
There were plenty of those Saturday afternoon, when Hayes signed and chatted for around two hours after sending his upbeat message to the youngsters competing in the 10-team, three-day tournament.
“This is a good experience that comes once in a lifetime,” said Val Kelly, Luca Kelly’s mom and the wife of Burnt Hills coach and tournament director Gregg Kelly. “We’re happy to give it to all the kids.”
Those kids were chanting Hayes’ names over and over as he approached the pavilion just prior to his stay. ‘We want Hayes. We want Hayes,’ they yelled.
“I miss my teammates, and I miss the fans,” Hayes said. “It was nice to hear them cheer me.”
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