When Vaughn Hayward walked off the mound at Connecticut’s Dodd Stadium on May 24, part of him was resigned to the possibility that he had thrown his last pitch in a competitive game.
That spring afternoon featured the collegiate Hayward at his finest for Bryant University. With the Northeast Conference championship and a berth to the NCAA Tournament on the line, the senior flummoxed the Sacred Heart hitters with 6.1 shutout innings while scattering five hits. It looked like a chance to go out on top, as Hayward did not make an appearance in either of the Bulldogs’ NCAA games.
“I would have started Game 3. Unfortunately we didn’t get to that point,” Hayward said. “You never know what game could be your last. I was hoping to play pro ball after that.”
When the Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft took place earlier this month, Hayward’s name was nowhere to be found. Once the 40-round, 3-day draft extravaganza came and went, the wheels went in motion for this 2009 Mount St. Charles alumnus to get another crack at pitching.
This past Wednesday, Hayward flew out to Glendale, Ariz., spring-training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Declared a free agent following the MLB Draft, the Dodgers were one of several suitors who expressed interest in bringing him aboard.
Acting as his own negotiator, Hayward came to terms on a contact and was immediately assigned to Los Angeles’ short-season rookie league affiliate in the Arizona League.
Reached in Arizona Friday not long after taking and passing his physical, Hayward proclaimed that all systems were go for him to don a pro uniform and sit in the dugout Friday night for the AZL Dodgers’ season opener. Whether he starts or pitches in relief remains to be seen, though it’s fair to say that Hayward won’t be coming down from Cloud Nine any time soon.
“It’s every Little Leaguer’s dream. I’m lucky enough to work hard to get to this point and I’m thankful for that,” said Hayward, who hails from Glendale. “I’ve had great coaches along the way to help me get to this point.
“I’m getting paid to play baseball. That’s awesome and the best thing I could ever ask for,” he said. “I’ve never been to Arizona, but I like it so far. It’s hot, but it’s good for pitching. Better than freezing in the Northeast.”
Hayward’s senior year at Bryant included 15 appearances, 13 in a starter’s role. A history major, he posted a 9-2 record with one save and a 2.41 ERA. In 71 innings, Hayward allowed just 63 hits, walked 23 and struck out 47.
In his two years in Smithfield, Hayward went 9-2 with three saves in 36 appearances. He struck out 70 batters in 94.1 innings and posted a 2.19 ERA. The right-hander began his college career at Holy Cross, but transferred to Bryant after his sophomore year in 2011.
A key piece on a Bryant squad that finished 42-16 overall and represented the NEC for the second straight year in the NCAA’s, Hayward becomes the fifth member of the 2014 Bulldogs this season to sign with a MLB team.
“We got a lot of notoriety. I think we were number one in the Northeast in the Coaches’ Poll,” Hayward pointed out. “Bryant is a very good baseball team and the program is starting to get some national recognition, which I think helped.”
The groundwork to ink a deal with the Dodgers was laid by Richard DeLucia, the organization’s Northeast scout.
“He saw me pitch during the season,” said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Hayward. “It’s a great organization to be a part of and I’m thankful for that.”
While Hayward has yet to throw a bullpen session as a professional, he has been able to meet and greet a number of his AZL Dodger teammates. The former Mountie standout is staying in a hotel not far from the field.
“As far as I can tell, it’s a good group of guys,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Bryant head coach Stephen Owens remarked, “We are very excited that Vaughn was able to sign with a professional team and pursue his dream. He has worked hard and improved each year, including having a tremendous senior season. We wish him the very best.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03