Yanni Kouiroukidis, Contributing Writer
For sophomore second baseman Michael Haydak, a love for baseball runs in the family.
“I would say my biggest influence is probably my dad and then my grandfather,” Haydak said. “They both love baseball so they taught me the way and how to play the game when I was young.”
The sophomore infielder has risen to the top of the VCU baseball stat sheet, ranking second in batting average with a .318 clip, but his path to Richmond wasn’t straightforward.
After moving state to state until he was five, Haydak and his family settled in Tampa, Florida, where he grew up watching the Tampa Bay Rays and their star, his favorite player, Evan Longoria.
Haydak attended Plant High School, where he said he was overlooked because of his size. After high school, he attended Pasco-Hernando State College, which he credits for eventually propelling him to the top of the Rams’ roster.
“I was always overlooked at my high school, we had a first-round draft pick and a few other big-time Division I commits,” Haydak said. “I was smaller and had to develop a little more, so I went to Pasco-Hernando State College and I developed a lot there and put on a lot of weight and strength.”
Haydak said going to junior college was one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“I definitely wasn’t developed enough to play Division I right away,” Haydak said. “Instead of going and sitting out for a year or two at another school I got reps at junior college and I got stronger and better. I think that’s what has got me to where I am.”
Coach Shawn Stiffler and his staff at VCU noticed Haydak during his time at Pasco-Hernando. After losing some players to the draft the past year, Stiffler said he was looking for a mature player to come in and help the squad. He found that in Haydak, he said.
“One thing that really stood out to us was how well he was performing offensively at Pasco-Hernando,” Stiffler said. “He was hitting in the high .400s at junior college in Florida and not striking out. His strikeout to walk [ratio] was really good, which is something that we value here.”
Haydak is currently second on the team in batting averages, with .318 and on base percentage, with 42%. To get to this level, Haydak had to have faith in himself at junior college, he said.
“I wouldn’t say I saw this coming but I definitely knew I was prepared to step in and produce right away,” Haydak said. “Just coming from a junior college … I was ready to come and fit in.”
Although Haydak’s two years at Pasco-Hernando helped prepare him for the college game, he still learned three things from Stiffler, he said: accountability, maturity and leadership.
“Being an older guy coming in here, we have a lot of younger guys,” Haydak said. “He’s definitely told me that I need to be mature and help lead, and he’s helped me a lot with that.”
Haydak said he’s keeping an eye on the conference championship as an ultimate goal, hoping to someday play at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
“Obviously anything can happen in the playoffs,” Haydak said. “You see so many underdogs go and make crazy runs, so I’m hoping we can be one of those teams to maybe Omaha one day.”
The Rams take on George Mason at 6:30 p.m. this Friday at The Diamond. The game will be televised on ESPN+.