BY JEFF FALK
Andrew Hainly is as rare as a Honus Wagner baseball card. Quite frankly, he is one of the most special baseball players this reporter has ever met.
And not just because he’s a well-spoken, courteous and complex student-athlete.
What makes Hainly so unique is the position he plays and how it relates to the orientation of his dexterity. You see, Hainly is a southpaw shortstop.
“No, I’ve never met another left-handed shortstop,” said Hainly. “Do you know what? I’ve never thought about it.”
“I’ve been playing since I was seven,” said Hainly’s coach, Scott Hargett, “and he’s the second one I’ve seen in 45 years in baseball. Actually the other was a guy back home in Meadville. That’s the only one I can think of.”
Also a left-handed batter, Hainly is a senior shortstop on the Lebanon Catholic baseball team. He’s been the Beavers’ starting shortstop for most of the last two seasons.
“It’s different,” said Hainly. “But it’s not different to me. There’s no pressure on me because no one thinks I can do it. So just go out there and have fun.
“I’ve been playing baseball since I was four or five,” Hainly continued. “I played pretty much anywhere. I never had a set position until high school. Halfway through my junior year they moved me to shortstop, and I’ve been there ever since.”
“I watched him do it recently and he actually makes his turn before he’s fielding the ball,” explained Hargett. “He’s made some allowances. He played shortstop in teeners and he played shortstop last year. He’s a smart baseball player. He’s figured out what to do.
“Most of the time, they (left-handed shortstops) have to turn their whole body to throw to first base,” Hargett added. “In some plays, that’s the difference between being safe and out.”
Being left-handed makes playing baseball’s most demanding defensive position even more challenging. Only about ten percent of the population is left-handed, and those who are and play baseball usually end up at first base or in the outfield.
“It’s got to be quick,” said Hainly. “You got to be quick with your hands, that’s the key. It’s all arm. Setting my feet isn’t always easy.
“I really like playing shortstop,” added Hainly. “I wouldn’t like to play anywhere else. It’s the most action. You’ve got to do the most stuff. You have to think about the most stuff.”
“He’s made all the plays,” said Hargett of Hainly. “He’s made them look easy. We work with him in infield practice. Actually, I don’t know how he does it. Sometimes I’m better off not knowing, and just knowing the results.”
Hainly was moved to shortstop last season, through the approval of fomer coach Ryan O’Donnell. When Hargett took the reigns this spring. Hainly had to convince him he could play the position – win him over – sort of.
“I kind of thought about it when Coach (O’Donnell) left, because no one was happy about it,” said Hainly. “I heard he (Hargett) was going to put me somewhere else. Then he told me I’d be put at shortstop. I’m very happy at shortstop, but I told him it really didn’t matter. I’d play wherever he needed me. It’s my senior year. I just want to win.
“I make the plays,” continued Hainly. “Our former coach had faith in me. I practiced there, felt good there, looked good there. I don’t do anything special. It’s routine plays. I just make the plays that need to be made.”
“He was the shortstop last year, but my plan was not to have him play shortstop,” said Hargett. “I told my assistant coaches that, and I did a little research. He made two errors in 28 games last year. I asked my assistant coaches, ‘Do we have anybody better?’ And they said, ‘No.’ We don’t have a better shortstop. And even if we did, I’m not sure I’d make the switch.”
Hainly’s steady play at short and lead-off abilities have helped Lebanon Catholic to a 4-7 mark thus far. The Beavers have designs on yet another District Three Class A playoff appearance.
“It’s been a little rocky so far,” said Hainly of his senior campaign. “It’s been back and forth. It’s not really been consistent yet. But we’re getting there.
“I like to be the leader,” Hainly continued. “I like being the person who gets everyone fired up. I can do my thing, but I want it to be a team effort.”
“I’ve known him since he was 13,” said Hargett. “He’s a good kid. He’s usually pretty quiet off the field. On the field it’s an entirely different story. He’s our leader on the field.”