Ke'Bryan carries on Hayes baseball tradition

June 19th, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Hayes returned to PNC Park in June to see his son, Ke’Bryan, play for the home team for the first time since the younger Hayes was called up in September 2020.

The pandemic did not allow for Charlie to see Ke’Bryan debut in person on Sept. 1, 2020, when he showed off with a double, a homer and three runs scored for the Pirates at PNC Park -- the first glimpse of talent that ripened the closer he got to the Majors, before now bearing its fruit.

When Charlie arrived at the Pirates’ home park, his most-used former number -- 13 -- and the embroidered lettering HAYES could be seen everywhere around the ballpark. With only 40 games under his belt in his Major League career, “Young Hayes” has already made a name for himself -- with the same number and name as the elder Hayes.

“It’s kind of surreal,” Charlie said, “but whatever that kid gets, he deserves it.”

Ke’Bryan gave his father a show in the latter’s trip to Pittsburgh. In his first game off the 60-day IL, Ke’Bryan had two hits, including a triple against the Marlins on June 3. The next day, he did something in front of Charlie that he’d also done on Opening Day at Wrigley Field: He sent a two-run home run deep to center field.

Charlie caught it all on camera. Well, nearly all.

“Funny story: I think he actually missed it,” Ke’Bryan said. “I think he got me running around. He didn’t get the actual swing because something malfunctioned.”

On Charlie’s final night in Pittsburgh, Ke’Bryan went deep once again, except this time, the ball was hooking toward the corner of the Clemente Wall and the foul pole in right field. Ke’Bryan went hard around first, with the chance that the ball could carom back to Mookie Betts, who has a strong arm.

In the process of hustling out the box, Ke’Bryan missed first base. It spread on social media like wildfire, but Charlie was no less proud. Instead of dwelling on the obvious mistake, Ke’Bryan and Charlie had a good laugh at the airport that night as the elder Hayes flew back home to Houston.

“If he’d been doing it like most kids, he would have still been at home plate,” Charlie said. "I’m glad he doesn’t play like that.”

That style of play has been the model for Ke’Bryan’s entire baseball life. Work ethic has been at the core of how he’s risen to where he is today. Charlie said that Ke’Bryan was the least athletic of his three sons (Charlie Jr., Ke’Bryan and Tyree), but he was also the one who was most dedicated to the game.

Ke’Bryan told his friends not to vote him as homecoming king at Concordia Lutheran High School in Tomball, Texas, because he wouldn’t show up. He stood true to his word, and while his name was announced for the top honor at the annual event, he was taking swings, fielding grounders and working on his craft. Thirty minutes after he got his high school diploma, he was taking swings in the cages.

However, Charlie never felt like he had to get on Ke’Bryan for missing anything important. His son had a good compass, knowing how to differentiate between what matters in life and the extracurriculars.

“He did it on his own,” Charlie said. “I mean, I didn’t have to tell him nothing.”

The incredible baseball skills Ke’Bryan puts on display every night now didn’t come naturally. The same as any youngster, Ke’Bryan had games when he was 8 or 9 years old, stumbling around the bases. Charlie coached him up through those elementary and middle school days, and he also took another step that meant a lot to his youngest son: He took him to see his older brother, Tyree, who was working his way through the Rays’ system, then the Reds’.

“Everyone tries to give me a lot of credit, but honestly, Ke’Bryan is the way that he is because of his brother, Tyree,” Charlie said.

“We used to always go out for spring break and watch him during Spring Training. I got to go a couple of times [to real games],” Ke’Bryan said. “But yeah, most of the time, whenever I would go, his coaches and stuff would let me come be on the field for BP and they’d let him throw to me early in the day if he wasn’t busy on the field.”

Ke’Bryan also got opportunities to be on Major League fields when he was growing up, before anyone knew he’d become the talent he is today. After Charlie’s playing days were over, he’d take Ke'Bryan to games, including ones that featured the Giants and Reds when Dusty Baker served as manager.

Charlie, whose father died at a young age, said he always considered Baker to be a father figure when he was in the Major Leagues, and that special relationship extended to Ke’Bryan. Baker would let the youngest Hayes onto the field for batting practice. He’d let him into the dugout. He’d even let him into the locker room to see the players up close.

“That was the biggest thing with Dusty: He made it about the family,” Charlie said. “It wasn’t just the player. He took in the whole family.”

Needless to say, Ke’Bryan, who was too young at the time to remember his dad’s playing days, still has a lot of impressions of what a Major League routine looks like. Ke’Bryan decided to make that his goal. And when Charlie finally saw his son was good enough -- and hard-working enough -- to go on the traveling circuit in high school, he let him take those crucial first steps toward his dream.

It also marked a passing of the torch between father and son: Charlie took a back seat and let Ke’Bryan play his own game.

“In the offseason, to this day, when I go hit with him, he doesn’t really say anything,” Ke’Bryan said. “He’ll throw, hit me ground balls, but he doesn’t really say anything. And he always told me that he’s not always going to be there whenever I was playing back home, so I’ve got to be able to make adjustments and figure things out myself.”

Charlie said Ke’Bryan has figured it out better than he has, even down to the minor details of being a professional athlete. Charlie would come back home with ice cream, and Ke’Bryan wanted no part of it, typically choosing much healthier meals. Charlie doesn’t know if the younger Hayes drinks anything but water these days.

Ke’Bryan has it all down now. Charlie’s work hasn’t stopped there, though. He has been back at work at Big League Academy in Tomball, training the next generation of baseball players in a hotbed for MLB talent.

“If I was in Houston, that’s where I would be at,” Ke’Bryan said. “My dad played 14 years, my brother pitched Minor Leagues. He was in the clubhouse, and my dad got to be on the field all the time. So they know what they’re doing up there.”

Charlie has had a hand in the young days of stars like Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rendon and Tyler Naquin. There’s no doubt he’ll have a hand in even more stories in the coming years with his outgoing personality and love of the game as clear as day.

But the MLB player he is the proudest to have coached is the one from his own bloodline. The one who lacked some of the physical traits of his brothers, but overcame those shortcomings with hard work. The one whose grand slam call is the ringtone to his cell phone, a reminder of the immense talent he’s become -- thanks to a father who taught him from the beginning, then let him become his own player.

“The biggest reason why he’s so successful? I think it’s because he’s true to himself,” Charlie said. “No matter what I say or how he did or how positive I am.”