Looking at the lockers in the Lake County Captains’ clubhouse, most are filled with typical male athlete trinkets – food, clothes, extra gear, protein powder, maybe a picture or two of family or friends from back home, phone chargers, iPads, and other things to entertain the players before or after games.
Look at the locker of Eric Haase, however, and you notice one photo that stands out from the rest.
Prominently displayed in Haase’s locker is a picture of the 21-year-old catcher from Westland, Michigan, holding a red-faced, dark-haired newborn boy. Haase proudly took the photo off his locker and extended it to the media, a broad smile on his face.
“Santino Zachary Haase,” he said, still grinning. “Sonny.”
Sonny is the first child for Haase and his wife, Maria, (whom Haase described as a “trooper” who is doing “really well” after Sonny’s birth), who were married last year prior to the 2013 season. Though young, Haase and his wife decided that it was the right time for them to start a family, saying it was no use to put off something they both knew they wanted to happen.
Although it seems difficult to start a family at such a young age (and on such a small paycheck), Haase does not appear to be discouraged.
“It’s one of those things—baseball is obviously going to run out one day, but hopefully, the family aspect of it doesn’t,” Haase said. “There’s no reason to put my life on hold for a chance that might not be there.”
Lake County Manager Mark Budzinski echoed Haase’s sentiments, as he and his wife had their first two children while Budzinski was still playing in the minor leagues.
“It’s a big life changer; I think it’ll be good for him,” Budzinski said. “It puts things in perspective. You still take your job very seriously, obviously, but when you leave the park, good day or bad day, you always have that smiling face to look at.”
“You work in the off-season to make it work,” Budzinski said of the economics of having a family while playing minor league baseball.
Budzinski also said that a special part about having children while still playing is that it gives the children a chance to remember that part of their parent’s life. His oldest child, Josh, still remembers walking up the stairs in Scranton to batting cages after games with his father.
Haase’s son will certainly have that opportunity to be part of his father’s professional career, as Haase is playing in his fourth season with the Indians organization. He was drafted in 2011 out of Devine Child High School in Michigan, choosing to sign with the Indians instead of play baseball for the Ohio State University, and spent the 2011 season with the Arizona League Indians. He played in Arizona and with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in 2012, and spent the entire 2013 season with the Captains.
Haase’s 2014 tenure with the Captains has been reminiscent of his strong performances of 2013. Last season, he hit .250 with the Captains and smashed 14 homers. He had 94 hits, 23 doubles, and three triples, and knocked in 47 runs. This season, Haase already has 31 hits, five doubles, three triples, and 16 RBI. He is hitting .242 and leads the Midwest League with 10 home runs thus far – despite having to suddenly adjust to a new lifestyle and, most noticeably, a new sleep schedule.
Sonny sleeps “like a champ” all day, said Haase, but is then awake all night – a responsibility that Haase attempts to take on as much as possible to take the pressure off his wife.
“It definitely puts things into perspective,” Haase said of having a child. “Baseball isn’t everything from this point on. Having a family really helps me off the field. It’s a game, and it’s not going to be there one day, but they will be and that’s a good thing to have.”
Even prior to Sonny’s birth, Haase demonstrated a strong ability to separate his personal life from the game he played on the field.
“I think I did a good job of separating off-the-field things with on-the-field things,” Haase said. “I think it’s a bigger distraction when I have a bad game, bringing that home off the field can make the relationship tough.”
Despite the grinding lifestyle that Haase and his wife have dealt with, and the struggles that remain ahead for the young family as Haase’s career continues and takes off, Haase is approaching the challenges with maturity and confidence. He has already decided that there is no doubt that he would like his son to one day play baseball, as well.
“I like the lessons that sports teach to young guys, so whatever that’s going to be, I’ll let him choose. Definitely some sort of athlete, I hope,” Haase said.
As Haase discusses his family, the smile cannot be wiped from his face. He has never seemed this happy in the clubhouse, not even after scoring the winning run after the Captains walk-off 3-2 win over the Great Lakes Loons on Tuesday night. Suddenly, his life revolves around so much more than what just happened on the field. Ever calm and collected, it’s obvious that Haase is thinking, as Budzinski implied, of that smiling face waiting for him when he leaves the ballpark tonight.
“I was pretty calm and chill the whole [pregnancy],” Haase said. “When he was born, it’s just something that, you know, you can’t really explain.”
“It’s out of this world.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer