Photo | Mike Kittrell
A few years ago, when they were leading the Atlanta Braves to the playoffs on a regular basis, pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine did a commercial making light of fans usually overlooking the importance of good pitching in favor of wanting to see guys hit home runs.
“Chicks dig the long ball,” was the catchphrase associated with the ad.
Fans of the Mobile Christian baseball team like home runs too, and they are fond of good pitching as well. But in recent seasons, they have also become fans of strong defensive play in the outfield, which means they are fans of Rashad Robinson and Hayden Redding.
The pair of seniors have played a key role in the Leopards’ success all season long, not only as strong defensive players — Redding in center field, Robinson in right field — but also offensively. Robinson entered the Class 4A state playoffs last week batting .438 with 35 hits, six doubles, six triples, three home runs and 39 runs batted in, while Redding was batting .417 with 35 hits, eight doubles, one triple, no home runs and 21 RBI.
While he appreciates the offensive contributions of the pair — Redding usually bats in the lead-off spot with Robinson hitting in the No. 3 position — head coach Talley Haines says the play of the two seniors in the outfield is what sets them apart.
“Hayden and Rashad are kids that have been in our program for a long time and who have played really early in their careers at the high school level,” he said. “They both played a lot as freshmen. They understand our program, and they understand how we like to do things and they are two guys who are great teammates number one — all their teammates like them — and they don’t show a lot of emotion when they struggle and they don’t get too high when things are going good. They are the type of guys you love having in your program.
“Athletically, they are probably two of the best defensive players I have ever coached. Usually, you don’t think of outfielders as being defensive players, but they both have great speed and they both get good jumps on the ball and they are such a weapon for us defensively, being able to cut balls off that would be doubles and triples going into the gap.
“They both come in on the ball great. We’ve got two seniors that are position players this year and that’s it and they are both outfielders, both of who will have the capability of playing center field at the college level and that’s rare. They both run well, they field well, they get good jumps on the ball and having them out there has been such a weapon for us. Rashad plays right field and Hayden plays center field, but really they’re both interchangeable.”
His appreciation has grown for defensive outfield play through Redding and Robinson and Haines wants others to take note of the role the duo has played, through their defensive skills, in helping Mobile Christian win games.
The Leopards entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in the state. They defeated St. James 5-4 and 17-8 in the first round and will play at home against Gordo this weekend in another best-of-three series in the second round. The first game is set Friday at 4:30 p.m., with the second game set to play at 6:30 p.m. If needed, a third game will be played Saturday at noon.
“You look at a box score and you see averages but you rarely take into consideration what a great outfielder is, and we’ve got two of them out there,” Haines said. “When kids are in Little League, sometimes they don’t want to play in the outfield. And in high school ball, sometimes you put guys in the outfield because they are really good at it.”
Redding and Robinson have proved to be good at it, good enough to earn college scholarships. Robinson will play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee next year while Redding has signed to play at Coastal Alabama North Community College in Monroeville.
“They are both speed players and they do all kinds of things for our program — they can steal bases, they can bunt, they can hit home runs, they can do everything,” Haines said. “They are so similar and they both have a lot of tools that don’t necessarily show up on the box score.
“They both played middle school for us, so they’ve both played since the seventh grade. So they’ve been with us for six years. They are both late bloomers and are young for their grade, so both of them, age-wise, could still be juniors because they entered school early. They both are guys who work really hard.”
Their experience and abilities are especially important now that Mobile Christian is chasing a possible state championship.
“I can’t tell you how many times they’ve come up with a great catch with the bases loaded, and they both have a knack for making great plays,” Haines said. “Everybody writes stories on guys who hit home runs and pitchers who throw no-hitters, but rarely does anyone do something on defensive outfielders. If they gave a Gold Glove for high school players, both of them would be right there.”
Robinson said he enjoys being counted on as a leader for the Leopards and knows he has plenty of help from Redding and the other seniors on the team.
“It’s been amazing [over the years],” he said. “Coach Haines has been doing a really good job of teaching us … He has shown us the way, shown us how to play since we started on the varsity [team] as freshmen. Now we’re teaching the guys who are younger than us. It’s been good.
“Of course, I enjoy being a leader. It comes with a lot of responsibility but me and Hayden are going to take it on. We talk about it a lot. We only have five seniors this year — Tyler [McKinion], Matthew [Dimmick], me, Micah [Frazier] and Hayden. We talk about it around lunchtime, how this is our last year and we want to make the best of it. We want to give it our very best. The time you have in high school, you never get that back, so we’re trying to make the best of it. Win or lose, we’re always going to play our hardest.”
Robinson said he enjoys being counted on as a defensive standout.
“It’s important because we want to help our pitchers out the best we can,” he said. “We don’t want to let any balls get between us. We’re not going to let any balls drop in front of us. It’s all about getting great angles. I think defensive outfielders are really important, in my opinion. It’s just really important to have those guys out there and the other fielders knowing you can do the job when the ball is hit to you.”
Redding has the same approach as his outfield teammate.
“We take pride in our pitchers staying comfortable and knowing they just have to go out and throw strikes and not have any worries about balls being hit to the outfield will be dropped and there won’t be any simple errors,” he said. “They know we can cover the ground and maybe make up for a mistake they’ve made [with a pitch].”
Those skills and that approach are especially important now during the playoffs.
“It’s our last go-round but it’s not [the team’s] last go-round, so we’re just trying to build the team and know when we leave there are still players here to take over and keep things rolling,” he said. “I like being a part of a team and being able to win as a team and having a job to do to help the team.”
Redding said trust in your teammates, which starts with the trust he and Robinson have in each other in the outfield, plays an important role at this segment of the season.
“It’s a lot easier being out there with people you know and trust,” he said. “You know he’s got your back and that I have his back. We’re going to do everything we can to help the team win.”
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