Vergennes native Devin Hayes takes the mound on a national stage

VERGENNES — Early during Vergennes native Devin Hayes’s baseball career at Castleton University, he had a conversation that proved to be prophetic.
When the talk occurred Hayes, a 2013 Vergennes Union High School graduate whose four-year career at Castleton came to a close in 2017, had already compiled an enviable baseball résumé.
As a VUHS junior Hayes threw a three-hit victory at the University of Vermont in the Division II championship game. As a Castleton freshman he picked up three wins to help the Spartans claim the North Atlantic Conference title, and he made the first of what would eventually be four appearances in NCAA Division III tournament games.
Hayes, 23 and now assisting the Middlebury College baseball program, recently recalled that conversation.
“My sophomore year at college I had someone tell me, ‘Let baseball take you places. Let it be a reason for you to travel,’” he said. “And because of that (baseball) I’ve been to Alaska, the Dominican, and Ireland, Bulgaria. It’s just crazy to think that one game can bring you so many places.”
That remark predated Hayes’ trip to the Dominican with his Spartan teammates. And it came before Hayes’s stint in the Alaska Baseball League, which bills itself as designed for college players with professional goals, a description that fits the pitcher who was listed at six-foot-two, 215 pounds as a Castleton senior.
And that conversation came more than four years before Hayes — whose father, Kevin Hayes, is a native of Ireland — took the mound this past July in Ashbourne, Ireland, for the Irish National Team in the European Baseball Championship. Devin Hayes pitched for Ireland in its Pool C opener vs. Norway.
The Irish National Baseball program had built a new stadium about a half-hour from Dublin because Ireland had never hosted the Pool C tournament, or won it. Hayes helped change that in 2018, and hopes to help bring the team more victories this summer — that’s where Bulgaria comes in.
And thus many Irish fans’ introduction to baseball began with the ball in the hands of a 22-year-old Vermont native, in front of a crowd of about 400 that included about two-dozen of his family members.
“It’s an entirely different atmosphere; just because of the way the field is set up the fans are right on top of you. And I hadn’t pitched in a year. I was excited and wanted to show off and give them a reason to watch,” Hayes said. “All the nerves were there for the game.”
To an extent, it showed. Hayes earned the win in a 15-5 game, but a pitcher who walked only nine hitters in 62.2 innings his senior year at Castleton hit three batters. More typically, he struck out 10 with a fastball that touched 93 mph — he led the tournament in both strikeouts and hit batsmen. In 5.1 innings, he allowed seven hits and two earned runs.
“The head coach had said early on in the game they haven’t seen anything faster than 85 in a fastball, so you should probably keep throwing that,” Hayes said. “Probably 95 out of my 100 pitches were fastballs, just trying to throw it as hard as I could every time. Most of the time I knew where it was going, but a couple of them ended up getting inside on guys.”
Ireland rolled through the bracket with a 4-0 record and defeated Greece in the championship game. And by virtue of winning the C Pool, Ireland qualified to play in the B Pool in early July in Sofia, Bulgaria.
And winning the B Pool would mean Ireland could compete in the European A Pool tournament in September in Germany, with a chance to qualify for 2020’s Tokyo Summer Olympics.
“For the A Pool we get a shot at the Olympics, which would be awesome, an honor, and something I would never be able to see myself doing a year or two years ago,” Hayes said.
Really, it’s not fair to say baseball is taking Hayes places. As Baseball Hall of Fame General Manager Branch Rickey famously said, “Luck is the residue of design.” In other words, Hayes has worked hard to get where he is.
For example, his current gig with the Middlebury College program could be called fortunate, but wasn’t truly an accident. Hayes was training faithfully at the college’s Virtue Fieldhouse, lifting and throwing, often with a younger former VUHS standout, Hunter O’Connor, and at times with former teammates Chris Leach and Charlie Stapleford.
His diligence caught the eye of Head Coach Mike Leonard. After seeing Hayes going at it often enough in his Castleton gear, Leonard asked him why he was there.
“I told him I’m a local guy, I live 20 minutes away, I was just trying to help Hunter out, and we were throwing together,” Hayes said. “And he said, well, I really like your work ethic. I’ve seen you in here for a couple months, and our assistant, I think, is leaving at the end of the year, so if you want to stay in touch we’d love to have you come aboard.”
Leonard said the way Hayes went about his business impressed him, and he has proven to be a valuable member of the Panther staff.
“It’s really neat to see someone who is recently out of college get into coaching and carry himself in such a mature and professional way,” Leonard said. “He’s offered really good guidance to our players with his experience and knowledge, but also his work ethic. They’re able to see someone training, who is actively pursuing a dream of some sort of professional baseball, so he’s been a really good role model.”
Nor was it just chance that Hayes landed on the Irish team in January 2018. While looking during his senior year for further opportunities in baseball, Hayes saw an online ad for the Ireland opportunity and learned he was eligible due to his father’s birthright. He went through the two-month process to get a passport, with help from a team manager, who in turn learned from someone who had been impressed by watching Hayes pitch.
“He had heard from the Southern Maine coach, who we had played at the (NCAA) Regionals that year, that I had been pretty successful at Castleton. And he read up on my stats. And I had played in Alaska that summer, and he looked at those stats, too, and some videos,” Hayes said. “He was pretty interested in me coming over to play.”
And Hayes, who owns Castleton’s only NCAA pitching win, had improved steadily at Castleton thanks to his work on his fastball velocity, control, and secondary pitches — he throws a curve and a changeup and is working on a slider. In his senior year Hayes went 7-1 in 62.2 innings, with 59 strikeouts to go with those nine walks and an earned-run average of 1.58.
Hayes said he learned the value of off-the-field effort during his Castleton tenure, and that lesson paid off.
“When I got to college I finally found a love for the gym and was in there all the time getting stronger,” he said.
Leonard, himself a former minor league baseball player, believes it is not out of the question that Hayes could play professionally.
“I think so,” Leonard said. “Having someone with his size and strength and physical ability to throw the ball the way that he does, certainly I think he deserves a chance, and I hope someone will give him that chance. He’ll make the most of any opportunity.”
One thing Hayes’ devotion to baseball in the past six years cost him was making the annual family trip back to Ireland. When he arrived in Ashbourne this past June his relatives hadn’t seen him since his high school years.
His reappearance in June and July 2018 triggered a family reunion.
“It was fun to have the entirety of (my father’s) family there to watch a sport that led to me missing a lot of family events,” Hayes said. “It was nice to be there finally and to have that be the reason I was there. That was cool.”
WHEN VERGENNES NATIVE Devin Hayes, in uniform, pitched for the Irish National Baseball Team in July 2018, his Irish family showed up in force. Hayes is shown with what his father, Kevin Hayes, described as “half the crew” of relatives on hand. His brother Liam is second from the left; Kevin is over Devin’s right shoulder and his mother, Jackie, is over Devin’s left shoulder.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Hayes
Kevin Hayes appreciated seeing everyone together again at last.
“To be honest it was very emotional. My whole family were very proud,” Kevin Hayes said. “It was great for them to see him and watch him throw.”
As for describing what it was like watching his son play for his native land, Kevin Hayes was briefly silent.
“There are other words I don’t have right now, but it was definitely very satisfactory to see him on the mound with the Irish jersey on and the Baseball Ireland cap,” he said. “And the national anthem. And going back to my roots. It was definitely very heartwarming for me.”
For Devin Hayes earning a state championship at Centennial Field, hurling an NCAA victory, and pitching for Ireland in front of his family are all peak memories.
“All those baseball moments sit at the top for me. I wouldn’t want to place one ahead of another,” Hayes said. “They all group together as some of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had on a baseball field. It’s all about the teammates and all the friends I’ve made over the years and winning it with them.
“It’s just fun how baseball brings people together, and you’re friends with those people forever.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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