The press box overlooking perfectly manicured Midland Field in Amelia tells the story of the success of the Midland Redskins amateur baseball team.
Picture after picture of former players now in the major leagues hang above the seven four-foot National Championship trophies. Team photos show teen-agers, who had yet to think of the game as a mess of money and politics, smiling and holding American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack championship banners.
In each of those national champion photos (1984, "85, "89, "91, "92, "93, "97) stands the manager and founder of the Midland Redskins, Joe Hayden.
Hayden started the overwhelmingly successful Midland Redskins, the only Connie Mack (18-under) program in the nation to win more than three championships and the only to win three championships in a row, nearly 40 years ago.
"I had young boys and I went to watch one of their games," Hayden said. "They were just terrible and I said if I just coached them on the weekends, they'd get better. I took over the team and have been coaching ever since."
Hayden has coached some of the top players in Major League Baseball, such as All-Stars Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, as well as some former Reds: television announcer and former pitcher Chris Welsh, second basemen Bill Doran and Ron Oester, and first baseman Todd Benzinger.
Roger McDowell, Jim Leyritz and Mike Matheny also played for Hayden before moving on to professional baseball.
"You get a sense of pride seeing the players move on and succeed," Hayden said. "It brings back some chuckles and some heartaches." But the genuine and modest Hayden, who seems to sparkle as he speaks admiringly of his former players, refuses to say who his best player was.
Midland manager Joe Hayden, standing in front of the team's dugout before a game, got his start in coaching after taking over a team his sons played on nearly 40 years ago.
"I've never had a best player," he says. "Among the best are Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin and Bill Doran. As far as a citizen goes, I'd say Mike Matheny. He's a great young man as well as a great citizen."
And while baseball fundamentals are practiced, good character is what Hayden would most like to leave his players with.
"I'd like them to take with them a sense of responsibility and how to be a good citizen," he said. "There is life after baseball."
"I have one rule: Be good or be gone," Hayden said.
Fairfield graduate and two-year Midland pitcher Steve Kelly is grateful for his chance to play for the Redskins and Hayden.
"It's just a privilege to play here," the right-handed pitcher who was taken by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round of this year's major-league draft, said. "That's the way I look at it. Coach Hayden is a great guy. He only asks one thing and that's to give it all on the field and not embarrass anybody."
Catcher Chris Hamblen, a recent Highlands graduate who will play at the University of Cincinnati, grew up hearing about the fabled Redskins.
Midland catcher Chris Hamblen, an 18th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox, digs a ball out of the dirt during a game at Midland Field.
"It's a great honor to be a part of the team," Hamblen, an 18th-round selection of the White Sox in this year's draft, said. "You just hope coming in that you can live up to the expectations of the coaches and the team.
"They tell you when you get here, the goal is to win the National Championship."
The reputation of the Midland program has spread, attracting the attention of standout players from coast to coast. League rules limit rosters to nine players from more than a 90-mile radius from the city, but Hayden frequently receives referals from out-of-town contacts. Outfielder - pitcher Shelley Duncan, for example, was acquired because of a contact Midland hitting coach Tim Luginbuhl has with Shelley's father, St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Another out-of-towner, 16-year-old shortstop - second baseman Bryan Bass, also came to the Redskins with the help of a contact. "The Larkin family told me to take him," Hayden said. "He's going to be an awful good player or I'm awful wrong."
The defending national champions are enjoying a successful campaign this season, taking a 61-3 record into the AABC regional tournament which starts Thursday at Midland Field.
The top teams from eight regions advance to the Connie Mack World Series, to be played Aug. 7-14 in Farmington, N.M.
"This year's infield is exceptionally strong," Hayden said. "We have good pitching, adequate offense and very good team speed. Probably the biggest strength is they work so well together." Hamblen knows his team is capable of doing great things in this year's postseason.
"There's so much talent on this team," Hamblen said. "I'm pretty confident going into regionals. And if we hit the ball like we can and play together, we can win the national championship."