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Monday, July 16, 2012

Todd Haney Interview Part 1: Long Odds

Todd Haney waiting to bat in the 2012 Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Long Odds | Part 2: Can Control | Part 3: Was Focused

Todd Haney looked around at the other young Mariners farmhands.

One of the coaches relayed the cold reality: 19 out of 20 of them would never make the majors.

Haney, the Mariners' 38th round pick that year, remembered looking at one player in particular: the Mariners first-overall pick that year, Ken Griffey, Jr.

"You're sitting there thinking, 'well, there's Ken Griffey, Jr., over there, so I know he's going to make it to the big leagues,'" Haney recalled recently to The Greatest 21 Days, "'so it doesn't look very good.'"

While the Griffey prediction was right on, Haney also might have looked in a different direction, at himself.

It took him a little longer than Griffey, Haney made it in his sixth season as a pro. But he would go on to have a career that saw time in five major league seasons.

Haney achieved that goal, and overcame those long odds placed by his Bellingham coach, having grown up in Texas.

Both his father and brother had brief careers in the minors. His father helped teach him the game, throwing him batting practice on his lunch breaks.

Todd Haney, No. 24, during the National Anthem at the 2012 Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. (G21D Photo)
Haney also made the majors overcoming another set of long odds, the long odds that came with his height, all of 5 feet, 8 inches tall.

Haney spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Texas home, recounting his journey to the pros and to the major leagues.

He also spoke after returning home from participating in the June Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown, NY.

Haney has spent much of his time since his retirement as a youth baseball instructor. But, for another youth, Haney's 12-year-old son Tanner, the Hall of Fame Classic also provided the first time for the son to see the father in a game.

Haney grew up in Waco, Texas, first getting into the game at the age of 4, in T-ball. He also came from a baseball family.

His father Buddy Haney played professionally for a brief time in the 1960s, the only four-time All-American from Sam Houston State University, the son recalled. The father's career, though, was cut short due to injury.

Todd Haney walks back to the dugout at the 2012 Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. (G21D Photo)
Haney's brother Joseph Haney, also played briefly, getting two seasons in the mid-1980s.

Haney credits his father with helping prepare him for what was ahead, calling him a great role model and a hard worker.

"That's where I learned the discipline that helped me achieve my goals to play in the majors leagues, was through him," Haney recalled, "just him taking his lunch breaks to go throw batting practice to me, just being available to me at any time, week days, weekends. He was always there to support and help in any way."

Haney also credited his brother with helping him along. His brother was two years older and Haney would play ball with him and his friends. They would play baseball, basketball, football, other sports.

Joseph Haney was also taller, at 6'1", about five inches taller. Though Haney is credited at 5'9", Haney puts himself at 5'8".

"I always was smaller and I always had to fight to prove that I belonged," Haney said. Regarding playing games with his brother, "that certainly made me go out an dcompete a lot harder than I normally would have."

Because he wasn't as tall as other players, Haney recalled knowing he had to work to prove that he could play, even play with a chip on his shoulder, "knowing that every day you had to go out and compete at a high level and you had to leave everything out on the field and play as hard as you could," Haney said.

"That's the one thing that I always wanted to make sure in my career, that I never had any regrets," Haney said. "So I worked extremely hard and gave everything I had, so that when I was done, I could always look back and say I controlled everything I could in relation to my career, as far as effort, energy, enthusiasm and taking advantage of any opportunity that was provided to me."

One of his first opportunities came after his graduation from Waco's Richfield High School. Haney signed on to go to Panola College, a small junior college in east Texas.

Todd Haney shares a laugh after the 2012 Hall of Fame Classic in Cooperstown. (G21D Photo)
He had two good years there, winning the second base job. After two years there, he was offered and accepted a scholarship to become a Longhorn, with the University of Texas.

That was also when Haney recalled realizing he might actually be good, getting the opportunity to play at Texas. He called that an honor.

The intensity of the game sped up with his new school, he recalled. Haney also honed his game in summer ball, in the Cape Cod League.

In his second year at Texas, his senior year, the Longhorns also made the College World Series.

Focusing on playing and trying to win, Haney recalled not focusing on the scouts in the crowd. He recalled his play, having a couple good games, but it wasn't out of the ordinary. The Longhorns did finish third.

"The experience is such a tremendous experience, that was my focus," Haney recalled, "I knew I wasn't going to be a high-round draft choice. For me, it was I want to concentrate on what I'm doing doing right now. Then, if I'm fortunate enough to be drafted, and that opportunity arises, then we'll move in that direction, move forward from there."

Haney was fortunate enough to be drafted, by the Mariners in the 38th round. He also moved forward from there to the majors.

Go to Part 2: Todd Haney, Can Control

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