Gerard Haran is one of those players who is just fun to watch. Before games, he bounces around the ballpark, chatting with teammates, coaches and fans. He is equally gregarious during games, chatting with opposing players, umpires and teammates, like a Valley League equivalent of the Major's Sean Casey or Randall Simon. Oh, by the way, he can play a little ball, too: he was named the 2006 Division III player of the year by six different organizations.
Coming out of high school in 2003, Gerard was being recruited mostly by Northeast schools: Rutgers, Rhode Island, St. Johns, Seton Hall, and Fordham. The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) at that point was not in Haran's top five. He found, though, when he visited the bigger schools, that the situations were not the most favorable. Perhaps he would have to redshirt, or the scholarship money wasn't enough. Rick Dell, the head coach at TCNJ, came for dinner with the Harans, and made Gerard feel like he was a priority. He also assured Haran that he would receive playing time right away, and that he would be an important piece of his program. The decision was easy; he was going to TCNJ.
Gerard has not regretted his decision at all. He said, "I don't regret any minute; I've met some great guys, and had some great roommates." Some of the players that Gerard knew in high school who went to big colleges are just now getting to play. Haran has a realistic view of division III ball. He said, "One of the great things about playing division III ball is that we're not getting paid at this. There's no scholarship. We don't have fitness coaches, nutritionists, weight room coaches; we barely have enough to staff our team. We go out there because of pure love of the game. We're a bunch of self-starters."
In Haran's freshman year, he was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) Rookie of the Year. He batted cleanup most of the year, putting up .333/.400/.596 numbers. He also played well at catcher, holding the opposition to a .651 stolen base percentage. In the summer, he played for the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL) Phillies.
Haran made a discovery between his freshman and sophomore years: lifting weights made a difference. "My baseball career turned around when I got into lifting," Haran says. "It was incredible how my body took off." Haran's roommate, Ben Brown, lifts with Haran in the offseason. "He's very into it as well...we joke around that the offseason is our "season," when we start getting ready for the real year. It's great having a guy like that to challenge me in the weightroom. It's been a big part of my success in college."
Clearly, it showed in Haran's statistics. His home runs increased from 6 to 15 (a school record), and his slugging percentage exploded, going up .147, from .596 to .743. For good measure, his on-base percentage went from .400 in his freshman year to .488 the next. He also set a school record for RBIs, with 74. With the better numbers, Gerard's profile increased. In a regular potpourri of acronyms, he was named a first team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), the NJCBA Division II/III Player of the Year, an NJAC 2nd team All-Star, a Mid-Atlantic Regional Division III All-American, and to the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III Metro 1st team.
In the summer of his sophomore season, Gerard accepted an invitation to play for the Torrington Twisters of the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL). In 41 games, Haran hit .273/.380/.403, with 6 doubles and 4 home runs. Here is a link to a myspace site where you can see three different short clips of Haran batting for the Twisters.
The success in the summer clearly carried over into Haran's junior year. He put up even better numbers than the year before, finishing at .415/.541/.807. He hit 14 more home runs, drove in 64 runs, and added 21 doubles and 2 triples for good measure. He also controlled the strike zone to a fault, collecting 36 walks while only striking out 18 times. Haran insists, though, that the best part of the year was not his individual accomplishments, but the team's success. TCNJ finished at 38-8, a school record, and advanced all the way to the regionals of the Division III Championship.
Haran racked up even more accolades after the season, being named Division III player of the year by six different organizations: the ECAC, NJAC, NJCBA, ABCA Atlantic Region, Rawlings/ABCA, and the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).
Coming off this monstrous season, Haran had a ten-day contract to play in the Cade Cod League, the most prestigious of the summer leagues. However, something happened: New Market signed Dan Zeffiro, from Kean University, to pitch for them. Dan has been Gerard's best friend since they were little kids, so that made the decision to head South pretty easy.
Soon after Haran arrived and began playing in the Valley League, the Major League Draft rolled around. Being draft eligible for the first time in his college career, Haran was certainly expecting to be picked. About ten professional teams contacted him, with six rather serious about him. He had talked to scouts, and the scouts knew his ability. One of the scouts mentioned that Haran might be drafted as high as the mid-teens.
While Gerard and his father discussed the situation and thought it would be best for Gerard to return to school for his senior year, Haran was still in for a surprise: he wasn't drafted at all. As Gerard puts it, "My name didn't get called either day of the draft, and I was shocked by it...it's one thing to turn down an invitation to the dance, it's quite another thing when you're not invited at all."
Haran went into what he calls a "jaded malaise." For maybe three games, Haran lost his intensity. He was a long way from home, knew very few people, the atmosphere in the South was almost the opposite of what he was used to in New Jersey, and he had just been "rejected" from pursuing his dream. He sleepwalked through a couple games, which culminated with an poor performance against Luray, when he was heckled by a group of teenage girls.
After the game, he was sitting on the bus, waiting for the trip home, in between sleep and consciousness, when a teammate bumped Haran on his way down the aisle. Haran's hat fell into his lap, and clearly visible was the legend he inscribes on all his hats: "They deserve it." This "wonderfully vague statement," as Haran puts it, caused him to think about his family members who had sacrificed so much for him over the years. He thought of his uncles, arriving at the job site at 7:30 in the morning. He thought of his father, who would coach Gerard's Little League teams in a three piece suit because he didn't have time to change clothes after his hour commute from work. He thought of his mother, who gave up a career to raise him. He thought of his friends from high school, working. Here he was, having a chance to still be a kid, playing baseball for fun. These thoughts focused Haran, almost instantly. He said, "I felt ashamed. I snapped out of it, and I resolved that day that I would never be outhustled again; I would never be outworked again. I would bleed; I would sweat, and I would do it all with a smile on my face, because the people in my life deserve it." That was the turning point for Gerard. He now has the attitude that professional baseball will "work itself out," as long as he works hard and puts team goals first.
His "malaise" behind him, Haran had one of the best single-game hitting performances in the league on July 15 against Luray. He hit home runs in the 5th, 6th, and 9th innings, three at-bats in a row, to help New Market squeak out a 10-9 victory. He had just eliminated a hitch in his swing to smooth some rough edges, and everything came together. "We always got up for Luray; New Market and Luray are bitter rivals... they kept trying to challenge me with inside fastballs, and I was lucky enough to make solid contact," Gerard said. His last home run came off Jared Bradford, who transferred from Shelton State Community College to LSU this season.
Overall, Haran put up excellent numbers for the summer. He finished at .286/.403/.505, with 13 doubles, 7 home runs, and 24 RBIs in 154 at-bats. He walked 28 times against 29 strikeouts, continuing his history of controlling the strike zone. Gerard was the only Division III player named to the All-Valley League Team. He was also named the Northern Virginia All-Area MVP by the Northern Virginia Daily.
Gerard truly loved his time in New Market. He was complimentary to Teresa Baisey, one of the many who open their homes for the New Market players each summer. "She was the consummate hostparent," Haran says. "I can not stress it enough about how comfortable she made us feel when we were homesick. She had a boy from Georgia, a boy from North Carolina, and a boy from Jersey, and she made it all feel like home." It was odd; Haran felt at odds with things that most southerners innately understand; for example, how quiet the country can be, and how violent storms can get. Haran said, "The Algers were great, too; they were everyone's godparents. I can not stress enough how they helped with the transition." Leaving home ended up proving beneficial. Haran said, "I realized how hectic life is in Jersey once I left. Overall, it was great to meet such wonderful, humble people."
While Haran enjoyed New Market, it's clear that the Rebel front office and fans enjoyed him as well. Bruce Alger, President and General Manager of the Rebels, had this to say about Gerard: "Gerard is a young man with a tremendous amount of integrity and character. He was our team leader. He represented his family, his school, and our organization with class. He is a fantastic young man with a tremendous upside, not only in baseball talent and ability, but also in his drive to achieve his goals. I know he will be successful in whatever his future brings."
Haran had some interesting observations about the differences between the Valley League and the NECBL. "The NECBL is the American League, and the Valley League is the National League," Haran said. "The Valley League plays more small ball, and has more players who are fundamentally sound." He mentioned that the crowds tended to be bigger in the NECBL, but that was because the teams were more spread out. Each team had a larger area from which to draw fans. "If you put Luray, New Market, and Harrisonburg together, that would be one NECBL team," Haran said. Consequently, though, the bus trips are longer in New England, as well. Overall? Haran said, "The ballplayers were very good in both places."
As for the draft, Haran knows what he has to do to get noticed: "You're never good enough," he says. He knows that he could improve his consistency, be faster on the bases, and he's still working on his receiving skills behind the plate. He's also afraid that scouts sometimes make erroneous assumptions about his attitude; that they sometimes feel that he's cocky. In fact, the opposite is true; Gerard puts his team first. He constantly gives credit to his teammates and coaches for their role in the team's success. He hopes that his excellent summer will help his exposure, too, and that the more scouts see him play, the more they'll understand what kind of player he is.
For the upcoming college season, Haran is committed to helping the College of New Jersey win a National Championship. Come June, Haran will discover his fate with the Major League Draft. With his drive to succeed and ability to get along with people, it would not be intelligent to bet against Gerard Haran.