As the Major League Baseball first-year player draft approaches, Charlie Hayes and Mike Cameron have ample reason to be excited. They're just a couple of proud former big leaguers with sons chasing ambitious dreams and striving to perpetuate the family legacy.
Hayes' son is a sweet-swinging, fundamentally sound third baseman from Tomball, Texas, who is projected to go to the Los Angeles Dodgers with the 24th overall pick by ESPN's Keith Law. He goes by the name Ke'Bryan (pronounced KEY-Bryan).
Cameron's boy, Dazmon, is a gifted outfielder who's a product of the acclaimed East Cobb baseball program in the Atlanta suburbs. He is projected to go fourth overall to Texas by MLB.com or No. 5 to Houston by Baseball America, as long as his reported price tag doesn't prompt those teams to look elsewhere.
If the flashy first names set the two big league offspring apart from the crowd, rest assured it wasn't their fathers' idea.
"My wife and her sisters came up with Ke'Bryan, back when people started naming their kids Keyshawn and stuff like that," Hayes said, laughing. "I like simple names like Tom or Leroy. These kids now, man ... they're off the charts with those names."
Cameron sounds a similar theme. He was 24 years old and breaking into the majors when Dazmon was born. His only condition was that the boy not be named Michael Jr.
"It was Momma's idea coming up with some of this stuff," Cameron said. "I didn't want him to have to bear my name if he ever decided to play baseball, because I know how hard it is already. We just wanted to give him his own identify, and sure enough he has his own identity."
A year ago, former All-Star closer Tom Gordon was on hand at the draft when son Nick (Dee's little brother) went to Minnesota with the No. 5 pick in the first round. Tom "Flash" Gordon floated from one interview to the next at the MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, working off the nervous energy with a series of entertaining insights and observations.
The Hayes and Cameron clans, in contrast, will be gathered in their living rooms when new commissioner Rob Manfred announces the first-round picks at the 2015 draft. It's a heady state of affairs for two fathers who passed along their baseball genes, and sons who love the game so much they never required a push.
A real Dazzler
Mike Cameron broke into pro ball as an 18th-round pick with the Chicago White Sox in 1991. He signed for a $40,000 bonus -- or roughly 1 percent of the $4-5 million that his son is slotted to receive if he goes in the top handful of choices Monday night.
Cameron hit .249 with 278 home runs in 17 seasons with Chicago, Seattle, Cincinnati and five other clubs, and earned a reputation as one of baseball's genuine good guys and most dynamic outfield defenders. Cameron won three career Gold Gloves, but laments his misfortune in playing during the same era as Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds and other acrobatic center fielders who put a dent in his hardware haul.
As a youngster, Dazmon enjoyed the benefits of hanging out in big league clubhouses and watching Barry Larkin in Cincinnati or Edgar Martinez in Seattle and learning the proper way to play the game.
He's built an impressive résumé at age 18. In his junior and senior years at Eagle's Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Georgia, Dazmon hit .421 with a .545 on-base percentage and 14 homers. He has a firmer grasp of the strike zone and a better "hit tool" than his father possessed at a similar age.
"I always wanted to hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in the big leagues, but I had a little too much swing and miss," Mike Cameron said. "Daz is the total opposite. Ever since he was little, I always harped on him to be a really good hitter. I told him, 'Dude, do not worry about power. That comes later. It's already instilled in you.' His bat-to-ball ratio is great. He has a good knowledge of the strike zone, and he doesn't swing and miss."
The scouting reports describe Daz as a polished outfielder who lacks the "wow" factor of Twins mega-prospect Byron Buxton. But Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton saw Daz's potential on display when he traveled to Atlanta over the winter to work with Cincinnati minor league manager Delino DeShields. Daz Cameron attended some of the workouts, and it didn't take Hamilton long to see the kid has the goods.
"He's going to be a really, really great player," Hamilton said. "His work ethic is amazing. He took in everything we told him. He can run, he can play defense, and most of all, he can hit. He's following in his dad's steps."
When Mike Cameron was about to graduate high school in Georgia in the early 1990s, he peppered Florida State with letters only to discover the Seminoles had zero interest in him. Dazmon, in contrast, has an FSU scholarship in his back pocket as a Plan B, even though the industry consensus is he'll sign out of the draft and probably never set foot on campus.
Daz is being advised by mega-agent Scott Boras, and the Camerons will watch the draft unfold amid family and friends in suburban Atlanta. Daughter T'Aja, 16, runs track. Son Mekhi, 13, plays on the AAU basketball circuit. Daughter Lillo is the baby of the group at age 6. Along with Mike Cameron and his wife, JaBreka, they'll be on hand to support Daz on his big day.
"I've told him, 'It ain't by accident you're a good player, bro,'" Mike Cameron said. "I tell him to be consistent with what he does, and, 'Understand what you're doing while you're working, because that's what big leaguers do.' Even if he weren't my child and I saw him play I would say, 'This kid is going to be a good player, because of the way he goes about it.'"
The ultimate "cage rat"
Charlie Hayes received a $17,500 draft bonus as a fourth-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 1983, and he went on to hit 144 homers and bat .262 over 14 seasons with seven teams. The undisputed highlight of his career came in October 1996, when he wrapped his glove around a Mark Lemke pop fly for the final out of the 1996 World Series -- a magical moment that routinely comes up in conversation when he returns to Yankee Stadium for Old-Timers' Day.
Charlie and Gelinda Hayes raised three sons 13 years apart in age. The oldest boy, Charles Jr., grew to 6-4, 290 pounds and preferred football to baseball. The middle son, Tyree, spent six years in the minors as a pitcher with the Tampa Bay and Cincinnati organizations. And now comes Ke'Bryan, who entered the world in January of 1997, just two months after his father rode in a World Series parade through the Canyon of Heroes.
Charlie Hayes has stockpiled memories of Ke'Bryan and his infatuation with baseball at an early age. When Ke'Bryan was a little boy, he carried a pink whiffle bat with him to church, the mall, high school hoop games and everywhere else the family went. Charlie Hayes runs the Big League Baseball Academy in Tomball, and Ke'Bryan routinely spurned social activities for long hours in the cage.
Two years ago, Ke'Bryan's parents bought him a pickup truck that he could take to school. Two days passed before he summoned the interest to even go to the garage and take a look at it. While other kids were at the prom or hanging out at Buffalo Wild Wings, he was taking his obligatory 300-500 swings. During the school year, he typically awoke at 5:15 a.m. to hit before heading off to Concordia Lutheran High School. After a long day of classes and baseball, he was back in the cage hitting again at 8:30 or 9 p.m.
Ke'Bryan has a 4.0 GPA and is committed to the University of Tennessee, but he's motivated by one goal and one goal only: He wants to play in the big leagues.
"I've never seen a kid like this," Charlie Hayes said. "It's been baseball, books, baseball, books -- forever.
"He played in the state playoffs at 4 o'clock, and the game was over by 6:30. I stopped by the watering hole to have an adult beverage, and at 6:45 my phone rings and it's Ke'Bryan. He tells me, 'Dad, I just don't feel right. I need to go hit.' He just went 4-for-4 with two or three doubles. This kid just doesn't get tired. The last time I saw somebody like that, it was Don Mattingly.
"I've seen him hit a walk-off home run in the biggest tournament that a high school kid would play in. We get in the car and I'm all excited. I'm waiting for him to go, 'Hell, yeah!' And he's like, 'Man, I hate it that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays.' That's the kind of kid he is."
When Ke'Bryan was 13 years old, Charlie Hayes held him out of the travel circuit and stuck him in private school so he could hone his skills through countless hours of practice. The talent eventually led to Perfect Game tournaments and the assembly line of showcases that are a rite of passage for budding big league prospects. Last fall, Ke'Bryan Hayes, Daz Cameron and former St. Louis catcher Eli Marrero's son, Elih, played for the Team USA 18-and-under squad that won a gold medal in La Paz, Mexico.
Now the Hayes and Cameron families will sweat out the final leg of the introductory process that will send Ke'Bryan and Dazmon on their way to professional ball. All that time and hard work are about to be rewarded.
"It's so gratifying to see your kid grow up as a person and a player," Charlie Hayes said. "I tear up sometimes, it seems so surreal."
If Hayes thinks he's cried a lot of joyful tears over his good fortune to this point, he hasn't seen anything yet.