Over the years, whenever friends, teammates and media would ask Austin Hays why he hit without batting gloves, Hays would always trace the reason back to his mom, Terrie. As a pre-teen playing on competitive travel ball circuits, the story went, Hays would so routinely tear his gloves sliding into bases that Terrie simply stopped buying them for him. So Hays was left to brave the diamond barehanded, blisters and all.
It was a fun original story for a kid who takes pride in how he grew into one of the few big leaguers today who doesn’t wear batting gloves.
It just wasn’t exactly accurate.
“It was a surprise for me when I heard I was tired of buying them,” Terrie said this week sitting next to her son in Deland, Fla., where both are quarantined. “We had to buy them in groups of three or four!”
“She got on my case,” Hays said with a grin. “I had to recant my original story.”
Now, with Mother’s Day approaching and baseball still on pause, the Orioles’ young center fielder is resolved to set the record straight. Yes, Hays stopped wearing gloves because his hard-nosed style of play kept blowing them to bits. But it wasn’t a parental edict that sent him back into the batter’s box barehanded -- it was the choice of a kid who recognized the support his parents gave him and felt guilty taking advantage.
Plus, he could really burn through handwear in those days.
“I was about 11 or 12 [years old] playing travel ball and we were playing five to six games per weekend,” Hays explained. “I would always steal every time I got on, so I’m always sliding with these gloves on. They’d get clay on them, they’d get dried out, they’d keep ripping. It seemed like every weekend, we're getting another pair of batting gloves. I started to feel bad about her always having to buy me batting gloves, so I stopped wearing them for a while. And it stuck.”
Recounting the story, Hays turned to Terrie to confirm: “Does that sound accurate?”
“Pretty much,” Terrie replied. “He did not like it when they got wet and stiff and then didn’t like to wear them.”
Flash forward more than a decade, and Hays’ preferences haven’t changed. He eschews gloves even in cold and damp conditions, sometimes dipping his hands in hot wax before games to prevent blistering. He also reaches down to grab dirt every time he steps in the box to enhance his grip on the bat, which he’s been doing since his childhood days.
“I think it goes to the old school mentality of grip and rip,” he said. “Play the game hard and play it the right way -- that’s my style of play."
It also speaks to the values Terrie and Austin’s father, Chuck, tried to instill in him from a young age, and how they helped shape the high-energy player he eventually became. On some level, it also means that Hays always plays with Terrie on his mind.
“Everybody jokes on me that I’m always going to run hard, whether it’s down the line or for a fly ball, that’s kind of my reputation,” Hays said. “It’s because whenever I hit the ball [growing up], the first thing she would do is yell from the stands, ‘RUN!’ So when people ask why I run hard, it’s because it’s been instilled in me forever. My mom used to scream it at me from the top of her lungs.”
Said Terrie: “I used to play the saxophone so I have really big lungs ... Everybody can hear me.”
For mother and son, their bond continues to grow through baseball now with Hays in the Majors. Terrie and Chuck were constant presences at Austin’s games growing up, through his high school and college days at Jacksonville University. They were in attendance for his Grapefruit League games each weekend this spring and had planned to travel for a regular season series each month before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
It’s a challenge hearing his mother’s voice stand out from the crowds that pack big league stadiums. But Terrie says she won’t stop cheering, and Hays says he’ll keep listening for it.
“The first time I walked into Camden Yards, I had tears running down my face,” Terrie said. “We had a spectacular life watching our children play and it’s just a really terrific feeling to know your child is continuing to do what they love.”