10/21/2016 7:57 AM
Mark Haynes had 15 saves in 2016. (File photo by John Ellis.)
By SAM KING
Kansas City T-Bones closer Mark Haynes was a pleasant surprise for John Massarelli and the T-Bones organization in 2016. Haynes turned himself into one of the top closers in the American Association. But getting to that point was not an easy road for Haynes.
Haynes, originally from Sugar Land, Texas, attended Austin High School, where he was a three-year starter. During his senior season he posted impressive numbers that featured a 0.97 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, his senior season was cut short due to him needing Tommy John surgery, an injury that has ended the careers of many young players. What really hurt the most for Haynes is that during his senior season a large number of major-league teams had him pegged as a top prospect but ultimately backed away because of the injury.
The injury did not scare away some big name colleges, though, as Rice University and Texas Christian University stood by Haynes with offers throughout the entire process. Haynes ultimately decided to become an Owl at Rice, which turned out to be an illustrious time for the Rice program. During his time as an Owl, Haynes was a part of three trips to the College World Series, four NCAA regionals and four conference championships. Out of the bullpen Haynes went 3-0 and posted a 4.11 ERA while striking out 49. His best season came in his junior year in 2009 when he went 2-0 in 25 appearances with a 4.35 ERA. In the championship final of the NCAA regional in 2009 against Kansas State, Haynes started after notching his only save of the season three days prior. During his time at Rice he played with future big leaguers Brock Holt, J.T. Chargois, Tony Cingrani, Tyler Duffey, Anthony Rendon and Lucas Luetge.
Even with all of those great accomplishments and accolades Haynes went undrafted and went straight to independent baseball where he really blossomed.
“I honestly didn’t have a great experience at Rice,” Haynes said. “I had a bad taste in my mouth for the game and coming into independent baseball, being treated like an adult, is what saved it for me.”
Haynes signed his first professional contract with the Shreveport-Bossier Captains in 2010. Although he struggled on the mound, going 0-0 with one save and a 7.04 ERA in 16 games, he found himself in a winning culture with the Captains winning the 2010 American Association championship.
“I didn’t have a huge amount to do with it because I was the young kid on the team but that meant a lot to me,” said Haynes.
In 2011, Shreveport-Bossier struggled, going 45-55, but Haynes finished fourth on the team in innings pitched (63 1/3) and second in saves with five.
Following the 2011 season, the Captains were sold to new ownership and moved to Laredo, Texas. Haynes went with the team and cemented his status in the history of Laredo by being an original Lemur. In the team's inaugural season they hired former major-league player Pete Incaviglia, who led the team to a 54-46 record in the 2012 season, the team's first in Texas. During that first year Haynes found himself as a regular in the Lemurs’ starting rotation. Out of his 21 appearances 18 were starts. He didn’t put up the numbers he wanted, with a 4-7 record and 5.18 ERA, but he showed how well his surgically repaired arm had healed by throwing two complete games. In 2013, Haynes had the best season of his career, up to that point. In a season when Laredo went 52-47, Haynes moved to the bullpen and went 4-2 with a 2.35 ERA while leading the team in saves with seven. It was also the year that Haynes was having his most fun.
“[Teammate] Chad Povitch was the eighth inning guy and I was closing,” Haynes said. “There was a handful of times where you couldn’t paint the picture any better. He comes in in the eighth, punches out the side and I come in in the ninth and shut them down. We had some of those nights.”
After his best season Haynes looked to push the success into 2014 but eight games into the year Haynes found himself on the disabled list again. And, once again, he’d require Tommy John surgery. What was odd was the date of the surgery. His first surgery came on July 5, 2005, while the second one came almost exactly nine years later, on July 6, 2014.
Doctors told Haynes that he was ready to go for the 2015 season and he was, but he followed a safe rehab route during the season. Only seeing time in three games and with the Lemurs bullpen that was depleted due to injury, Incaviglia had no choice but to release Haynes. Almost instantaneously the Amarillo Thunderheads scooped him up. He appeared in 17 games and struggled with an 8.10 ERA. But all those struggles would lead to the friendly confines of CommunityAmerica Ballpark with the Kansas City T-Bones.
With Kansas City in 2016, Haynes enjoyed his best season in professional baseball. Not only did he establish himself as one of the top relief pitchers in the league but he was also selected to his first All-Star Game in St.Paul, Minn. At that game, Haynes threw one perfect inning, sending the South all stars down in order. Haynes’ best stretch during his first year with Kansas City was from June 29 to July 14, when he had seven appearances and picked up a save in all seven. He finished the season with a 5-2 record, a career-high 15 saves and a 3.25 ERA.
The success in ‘16 wasn’t by accident. Haynes changed a number things in regard to baseball.
“One of the main things is try not to look too far into the future or look at the past at all,” he said.
That mantra is especially important for the one position on the pitching staff that can not dwell on the past, the closer. Haynes is forced to pay close attention to each hitter and that’s not easy to do from the bullpen.
“I watch the first two innings in the dugout so I can watch them a little closer and I try and pick out the guys that maybe have some weaknesses,” he said.
His father, who played semi-professional baseball has taught Haynes to focus on what only he can control.
One thing he could control, and one thing that helped Haynes perform for Kansas City in 2016 is his engagement to Katie Blair, who was Miss Teen USA in 2006 and Miss California in 2011. She even worked for Donald Trump at one point, an experience that gives Trump two fans in this duo. Haynes and Blair have known each other since they were kids.
“She’s part of what motivates me to be even better,” he said. “Try and get better every day to hopefully have a good future.”
During the off-season, Haynes, who has a passion for guns, returns home to the Houston area, where he works at a popular shooting range, the Athena Gun Club. He has worked there for two off-seasons.
“They’ve treated me really great and it’s really an upscale, nice environment,” Haynes said. While working at Athena, Haynes typically works in sales. His background in education fits in perfectly, giving him a pretty good handle on the manufacturers and new technology. Thankfully, no one at Athena has hard feelings when he returns to baseball for the summer.
Haynes’ off-season job leads directly toward his interest of hunting. It does not matter what type of hunting it is, whether it’s bow hunting or gun hunting. Haynes loves it all. As an outdoorsman, though, he admits that he’s not a huge fisherman.
“I want to try that out pretty soon,” he said. “I’ve done a few fishing trips but nothing crazy.”
With his eyes already set on life after baseball Haynes looks to continue to stay in great shape by pursuing another hobby, bodybuilding. He finds fulfillment when there is no competition to be had while throwing the weights around.
“I’ve kind of found myself enjoying that a lot and probably too much in the last couple of offseasons,” he said.
Whatever Haynes finds himself doing, he’ll always have the memories from the 2016 season as a Kansas City T-Bone. Whether it be his mid-90’s fastball or his intimidating presence on the mound, it’s safe to say that T-Bones fans won’t soon forget him either.