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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hadden, PG form lasting friendship

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Back in the summer of 2010, just in front of the start of his junior year at Prior Lake (Minn.) High School, Michael Hadden and his parents, Paul and Josephine, made what may have turned out to be a life-changing decision for young Michael.

That August, Michael was extended an invitation to attend the Perfect Game Midwest Underclass Showcase at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium here in Cedar Rapids, and ultimately decided to devote his life to baseball.

Hadden is now a 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hander who is completing his senior year at Prior Lake HS, and on Saturday was at PG’s headquarters attending the 2012 Perfect Game Pitcher/Catcher Indoor Showcase. It was his fifth PG showcase event since the summer of 2010, and that included a stop at the prestigious PG National Showcase last summer at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.

“It’s a part of my life,” Hadden said Saturday. “People ask me if I get tired of it and I don’t really even consider that an option – that’s like asking me if I get tired of eating.”

Since that August weekend in 2010 at the PG Midwest Underclass, the Hadden family has forged a close working relationship with PG assistant tournament director Matt Bliven – known by all as Bliv – who was the coach of Hadden’s team at that event.

Paul Hadden, who was with Michael on Saturday on this latest great PG adventure, described a situation that arose in of one of the games in which Michael was pitching. It seems the defense playing behind him momentarily lost its way, and an infield hit turned into a bases-clearing error-fest. A “snowball fight” is how Paul described the montage of errant throws.

“Mike was coming off the mound after that second inning and Bliv stopped him at the first base line and had a couple of words with him,” Paul related. “Going out in the third inning, he was a different kid. It was what Bliv told him that has made a huge difference in Mike’s world, and I appreciate that. It’s just made a huge difference in what he can do.”

Bliven said Saturday there was just something about the young Hadden that made him take notice.

“At that point he was so mentally immature, but from the get-go I knew he was going to be a special player,” he said. “He was really the first kid I kind of took under my wing through Perfect Game, I guess, and you just couldn’t ask for a better kid. He always wants to get better and just loves the game.”

When asked what keeps him coming back to PG events, Hadden had a simple answer.

“It’s partially Bliv; he’s really helped me out a lot,” he said. “And I like the competition when I come out here. It’s just really cool.”

Hadden has signed with Nebraska – now of the Big Ten – and was impressive Saturday in front of about 30 pro scouts both at the plate during a hitting session against live pitching (he is also a high-level outfield prospect) and in his pitching outing. His fastball sat in the 85-88 mph range and topped out at 89, and a PG blogger noted that “the ball comes out of his hand well and shows solid life.”

Both father and son spoke enthusiastically about their attendance at the PG National Showcase in Fort Myers last June. Eight months after the fact, Paul was still pumped up.

“At the PG National down at City of Palms, we were trying to get off of our flight and then out of the condo where we staying and Mike is hollering at me that (Lance) McCullers is going to be on the mound and we’re not going to miss it,” he recalled. “When we finally made it to the stadium we were able to catch McCullers’ second inning on the mound and watched him throw 98 miles an hour. And then we were watching the guys in the home run derby not only hitting them out of the park, but hitting them over into the auxiliary field (beyond the left field fence).

“Watching the top players in the nation and Mike having that opportunity to have some of those guys on his Perfect Game teams, it’s just been huge.”

Michael was also impressed.

“I went down to the National and that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “I didn’t even care about playing so much; I was just watching all the guys that are going to be playing on TV in a few years.

“That was one of the coolest things, baseball-wise, that I’ve ever done. Along with Jupiter, it was the same thing. It’s just crazy.”

Ah yes, Jupiter. That’s the city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast that annually hosts the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, the most heavily scouted event in the land. Hadden attended the tournament last October as a member of the prestigious Dirtbags, a squad loaded with talent that always attracts hordes of scouts and college coaches.

“I never think about the scouts too much when I play. It’s never bothered me too much and I’ve never had that nervous feeling that a lot of people talk about with scouts,” Hadden said. “I just try to look past them, and if I impress somebody, (then) I impress somebody.”

Hadden had originally committed to Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College (DMACC) but changed his mind once the offer came from Nebraska.

 “I went down on my visit and I was just blown away with everything down there,” he said. “Coach (Darin) Erstad and Coach (Ted) Silva, they just seemed like really good guys. I just really trust Coach Silva to turn me into a real good pitcher over the next four years. It just seemed like exactly the place I wanted to be.”

PG’s Bliven may have been more pleased with the D-I offer than Hadden himself.

“One of the coolest moments I’ve had is when I found out that he was going to Nebraska, and that he’s going to a big-time program,” Bliven said. “He’s just one of those kids that you knew had something special and I don’t think he knew how good he was that point. Seeing him mature from a couple of years ago to now, it’s been an awesome experience.”

Hadden isn’t rated as a high draft prospect in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, but admits the possibilities cross his mind from time-to-time. He has his last full season of high school baseball in front of him and then plans on making the move south from his Minnesota home to Lincoln.

“I’ve considered it, but I have a long way to go to be able to think about it seriously,” Hadden said of the draft. “You’ve got to sit ‘90’ (with your fastball) and I’m not sitting 90 yet so I’ve got to start working on that a lot more. It’s definitely on my mind and I’d really like to do it, but (any offer) is going to really have to out-weigh going to Nebraska. After a few years at Nebraska it will definitely be on my mind. It’s definitely what I want to do.”

By that point, Hadden’s direct involvement with PG will be history, but it’s certain that association will never be forgotten. Not by PG, not by Michael and not by Paul.

“What Mike’s gotten out of the PG entity has helped to get him to where he is today,” Paul said. “Not only the exposure but having the opportunity to meet and play with some of the best players in the nation is huge.

“On our drive down, I asked Mike what was the pivotal point in his baseball career and he said it was the (2010) Midwest Underclass when Bliv was his coach.”

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