By Jackson White
-- When you think of Midland Baseball, you think of the many young men’s lives who have been impacted by the generosity of the entire Hayden family. Danny Hayden, the grandson of the legendary “Papa” Joe Hayden, has grown up around great players and coaches who have been a part of Midland’s storied tradition. He is now the Head Baseball Coach at Miami University (OH).
Danny grew up in Cincinnati, playing for the Midland program at a young age under the tutelage of his uncle, Bill, his father, Jay, and finally, his grandfather Joe. Each man played a significant role in his life and they each contributed to his upbringing in the baseball world. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Danny to talk about his journey from young Midland player to now being the Head Coach at Miami.
“I can remember watching Midland Baseball since I was a little kid. The first organized baseball team I ever played on was coached by my uncle Bill. I have my first baseball memories from my time playing in a Midland uniform and my uncle Bill was coaching. I remember going up to the big field every chance I could to watch the Redskins play, and to watch Grandpa coach. Some of the names I remember; Matt Burger was always my favorite because he was a big catcher and that probably spoke to me. I remember always wanting to be like those guys and wanting an opportunity to get to play on that field, which was always a dream of mine,” Hayden said.
Hayden continued “As I got older, I had the chance to play for my dad, who coached me for quite a while once I turned thirteen or fourteen maybe. I met some awesome people along the way, as well. I was coached by J.D. Heilmann, who is now the pitching coach at the University of Cincinnati. I was also coached by Doc Weiland, and those teams were a ton of fun to play on. I believe we were the Midland Warriors, and it was the same as it was on my uncle Bill’s team, once we were done with practice, we hoped we would go up to the big field and get to see the Redskins play some more. I remember watching both the Redskins play and watching my brother’s team who won a state championship. I remember thinking how cool it would be if I got to McNick (McNicholas High School) and helped them win a state title just like my brother did. I also thought about getting to one day play for my grandpa's team and help them win a championship. I put in a ton of hard work and turned a lot of my attention to getting better at the game of baseball, which gave me the chance to play for both McNick, and for my grandpa’s team when I was 18 for the ‘Skins.”
Hayden has a unique perspective now being the Head Coach at Miami. A lot of the lessons and things he got to learn as a player, he now has had the chance to share with his own teams. He talked about the impact of the Midland program on him, and the lessons and tribulations he still carries with him to this day.
“I think it’s always a little different for me when I talk about Midland because I often don’t want to come off like I’m bragging. People will always come up to me and tell me how much of an impact my grandpa had on them, how much of a great inspiration or motivation he was to them. All I can say is that I agree with them because anything else he was to any other kid that he coached, he was to me and my siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts. He was that for all of us. He was someone who we all looked up to, and someone who without a doubt had a monster impact on me. I always find myself talking about it, probably less than I should, because it always feels like I’m bragging about my family or something, but I feel like Joe Hayden had a monster impact on anything in my life that has been positive because of the values he’s instilled in our entire family, a lot of which I learned on the baseball field. I had the opportunity to coach with him, as well as Dave Evans with Midland for a few years and one of the things I took away from both of them was that a lot of the most important things you could tell a player, it’s more about timing than having all of the right information,” Hayden said.
Playing for Papa Joe and coaching for him were two perspectives that not many others got to experience. Danny Hayden, however, was one of those people. He got to answer the million-dollar question, which was tougher, coaching for his grandfather or playing for him.
“Coaching for sure. Playing was an absolute dream come true. To have an opportunity to play for him was incredible. He was never a coach who was the type to yell at players a whole lot, and I didn’t realize that as much when I was playing. However, he did get on coaches a little bit. I think he managed the coaches a lot more than he managed the players, how he would coach the coaches up, and the coaches would then coach the players up. Occasionally there would be a player he would talk to a little more than others. I remember Richie Jones as one of the players he would talk to. He would always tell Richie, ‘Nine on nine.’ His meaning behind that was to let him know not to get down on himself because it would create an unfair advantage to the other team, because we needed each guy to beat whoever it was we were playing. I ended up screwing up a lot more as a coach then player, so I warranted him sometimes getting on me a little,” Hayden said with a laugh.
From all the time he spent with his grandfather, Danny Hayden has quite a few good stories to tell. He was able to share his favorite story with his grandfather to us, which came while he was coaching on the Redskins with Papa Joe.
“I remember coaching third base, and I’m sure I’m probably not the only third base coach to share a similar version of this story. The situation was, we had a guy on second base, there’s no one out. In that situation, you never want to make the first out at home. Well, a guy hits a ball through the four-hole, right fielder makes a good, strong throw to home. I hold the guy running from second to third, he hits the breaks, so we’re not going to send him. Well, the ball goes past the catcher and into the backstop with no one backing the catcher up. Obviously, if we sent him there, the run would have scored. Grandpa politely tosses his hat to the ground and yells to me, “Just send him Danny, just send him!” Well fast forward, we’re in the same inning, we have a runner on second but there’s two outs. With two outs we’re going to try to push the envelope and see if we can tack on runs, and make an outfielder make a great throw and get us out. A guy hits a ball to the right fielder again, he comes up and makes a great throw, I’m sending the runner the entire time. Our guy is out by probably five feet at home, grandpa tosses his hat to the ground and yells, ‘you don’t have to send him every time, Danny!’ So that was coaching third base for Papa Joe, sometimes when they were out, and we didn’t score I got yelled at, but that is always one of my favorite stories to share about my grandpa,” Hayden said.
Hayden, now the Head Coach at Miami (OH), has had to deal with the recent surge of the transfer portal and all of the new changes in college baseball. He discussed these new difficult changes, and what it’s been like having to figure out the new way of college baseball.
“The last two of years of college baseball has completely flipped on its head. There’s been a lot of things in recruiting that have now changed because of the portal. I think one of the downsides to the portal is that high school recruiting will slow down a little bit with where we’re headed. Teams are kind of re-recruiting their incoming classes, as well as guys who are already on-campus. Some guys end up leaving, which creates open spots that have to be filled, so I think college baseball teams are turning most of their attention to the roster that will most immediately be on campus, so for us that would be this upcoming fall, where most of my attention has been this summer. Typically, we added a guy or two from the portal and it wasn’t something that would hit us as much, but it has certainly been a challenge and something we will need to adapt to because it’s the new way of college baseball,” Hayden said.
Hayden closed the interview by saying, “The biggest impact Midland has had on any kid in the program has been by the number of great coaches who have coached in the organization. It was a blessing to play for my Uncle Bill, my father, my grandfather of course, “Doc” Wieland, J.D. Heilmann, Coach “E”, Coach Hop, Joe Renner and then as I got to coach with guys like Kenny Reed, Bart Hammack, Chuck Warden, all guys who are great coaches and that have impacted the lives of many young men, as well as Brian Hiler who organized many of those great teams. I feel very lucky to have been a part of something as special as Midland was and will forever to me and a lot of other young men as well.”
Danny now resides in Hamilton, OH with his wife, Liz, and his three kids, Bo (5), Josephine (3), and Jasper (10 months). He is a great example of another young man who has found a way to impact others’ lives in a positive manner, all starting from his time at Midland. He comes from a family who has given a great deal to others, and he has found a way to continue giving through his coaching now. He is a proud member of the Midland family and will continue to use his platform to make a lasting impact on others, just like his grandfather did with the countless number of lives he touched.