July 18, 2005
Before taking a 14-year journey in pro baseball, Todd Haney learned his craft on the Lake Air Little League diamonds.
Now he's giving back to the Central Texas baseball community.
Haney is in his second year as the coach of the Waco Storm select-league team for 17- and 18-year-old players. The Storm works out at Reicher and in the same Lake Air baseball complex where Haney learned the game from his father, Bud.
“We've got a lot of baseball talent in the Waco area and this gives the players a chance to stay home but still play the top competition in the state,” Haney said. “I learned so much in 14 years of pro baseball and I want to pass on my experience to these guys. I want to help these guys get to the next level and beyond. As long as you keep playing, you'll have the opportunity to impress somebody.”
Haney's system is working since all 10 of the seniors on the Waco Storm will play junior college baseball next season, including five at Hill College and two at McLennan Community College. Haney's 16-man roster is drawn from 10 Central Texas high schools within a 60-mile radius.
The Storm will complete its season by playing in the Waco Invitational today through Sunday at Hill College and Riverbend Park. Such tournaments give players a chance to showcase their talent before college coaches and pro baseball scouts.
The Storm has already played in select tournaments in Arlington, Houston and Austin this season. Haney's club has compiled a 14-9-1 record, a significant achievement since many of his players are from Class 3A high schools or smaller.
“We face the best competition in the state and I know it's going to help me get ready for junior college baseball next season,” said infielder Jacob Limmer, a China Spring graduate who will play at MCC next season. “It's great to have select baseball here in Waco because I probably wouldn't be able to play if I had to travel a long way.”
When Haney speaks about reaching the next level, his players listen.
Haney was a 5-9, 165-pound infielder who graduated from Richfield High School in 1983 before playing at Panola College and the University of Texas. Picked in the 38th round of the 1987 draft, Haney's 14-year professional career included parts of five major league seasons with the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets before his retirement in 2000.
“I was neck-and-neck with Ken Griffey Jr. in the (1987) draft,” Haney laughed. “But I got the chance to keep learning how to play the game. I was a better player when I was 32 than I was at 20. I try to convey to these players that the rewards of baseball far outweigh the hard work you put into it.”
Haney and pitching coach Billy Brewer focus on fundamentals and the mental aspects of the game. Haney knows firsthand that knowledge and hard work can sometimes make up for a lack of great physical tools.
“Coach Haney really knows how to relay information to the players,” said former Robinson pitcher Tyler Schwartinsky, who is headed to MCC. “When you're hitting, he quickly spots ways to help your swing. When you're fielding, he'll let you know right away if something isn't right. His expectations are high but everything's designed to make you a better baseball player.”
By John Werner
Friday, July 15, 2005