Why the secret of Detroit Tigers catcher Eric Haase’s success started in a barn in Westland

Detroit Free Press

Eric Haase, the hometown kid who grew up to play for the Detroit Tigers, learned to hit in a pole barn in his backyard in Westland.

It became a mythical place — something everybody heard about but few saw.

“We had always heard about this barn — Eric’s barn, right?” Dan Deegan, who was then a Dearborn Divine Child assistant coach, said. “I’m like, yeah, but Eric lives in Westland. What do you mean barn? Westland is suburbia.”

Eric’s father converted the barn into a batting cage.

“Every day, Eric was in there, hitting off a tee or into a cage,” Lori, his mother, said.

When Eric graduated from Divine Child in 2011, there was only one logical place to hold the party.

In the barn.

“It wasn’t until his graduation party when I saw the barn,” Deegan said, laughing. “There was a heated batting cage and, you know, it all made sense — oh, so this is how the kid has developed that beautiful swing.”

During that graduation party, something cool happened. There was a display of some of the awards Haase had won during his career at Divine Child. He was on two state championship teams and named the 2011 Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Michigan.

[ After short stints in past, Eric Haase seeks chance to show he belongs ]

“He stood up at the party and got everyone’s attention,” Tony DeMare, who was then the Divine Child head baseball coach, said. “And he presented the player of the year plaque to me. He said, ‘I want this to go to Divine Child. Would you please put this in the showcase at school? It’s just a little bit of payback for everything that Divine Child has done for me.’”

DeMare paused: “And it’s there to this day; it’s in the trophy case at Divine Child.”

“What does that tell you about him?” I asked.

“It speaks volumes about who he is and his makeup,” DeMare said. “He has a big heart, cares about others and is a selfless person.”

Now, he is a Tiger.

Amazing.

It seems like just yesterday, to his mother, that she would take Eric to Tigers games at Comerica Park. He’d wear his Tigers cap and orange Tigers T-shirt.

“Every season I would get the best tickets I could get right above the Tigers dugout,” Lori said. “He’d want me to take him to watch batting practice and he would just stand there in awe of these guys. He must have been 5 or 6.”

Now, she goes to games and sees people wearing Haase jerseys.

Surreal.

“Anytime I can put that jersey on and go out there and compete with these guys, I take a lot of pride in that,” Eric Haase said. “When we’re at home, it legitimately feels like the city’s pulling for us, and it’s starting to be kind of exciting again for Tigers baseball.”

A Divine child in Detroit

During postgame Zoom calls with reporters, Haase looks like an old-fashioned ball player from another era. He’s got a thick scruffy beard, cap on backward, dirt stains on his shirt, the eye black still smeared across his face.

“Who did you grow up loving in Detroit?” a reporter asks.

“It was hard not to love Miggy, you know, he was in his prime right when baseball was kind of taking off for me,” Eric said. “To be hitting behind him and just be in the same clubhouse every day, it’s been just incredible.”

Haase was a freshman at Divine Child in 2008 — the same year as Cabrera’s first with the Tigers. Haase didn’t make the varsity but he was pulled up for the state playoffs. He was used mostly as a courtesy runner and Divine Child won the state championship.

By the time he was a junior, Haase was on a loaded Divine Child squad that won another state title. He played mostly third base because the catching duties were handled by Jeremy Shay, a Bowling Green commit. Now, Shay is as assistant coach at Divine Child.

“It’s awesome watching him every day,” Shay said. “He is representing Divine Child very well. Everyone on the team right now looks up to him. They all know him. He’s a great role model for the program.”

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‘Can I get your autograph?’

Junie Melendez, an area scout for Cleveland, watched Haase play several times in high school.

“He was a gym rat,” Melendez said. “His athleticism, his bat and his power stood out for a high school kid, especially a Michigan high school kid.”

Cleveland selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.

“We were just floored and I must have had 100 phone calls,” Lori said.

After the draft, Eric’s sister, Danielle, asked him to sign a piece of paper. She took it to a tattoo shop and had it tattooed on her foot because she wanted to memorialize the first autograph given by her little brother, the professional baseball player.

Haase spent nine seasons in the Cleveland system, getting a cup of coffee in the big leagues — nine games in 2018 and 10 in 2019.

But he kept working, kept believing.

“Every time he was doing so well, he just got shot down again,” his mother said. “He just need someone to give him a chance, someone to notice.”

The Tigers traded for him on Jan. 8, 2020.

“They called me at work to tell me and I just screamed out loud,” Lori said. “When he first got traded to Detroit, Eric and his wife and the kids were at Twelve Oaks Mall. And he was walking around with them. Some guy came up to him and said, ‘Hey, you wouldn’t happen to be Eric Hasse, would you? And he’s like, yeah. And the guy said, ‘Welcome back to Detroit, man!’”

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Getting his shot

Stuck behind Austin Romine, Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers on the depth chart, Haase played in seven games last season, going 3-for-17 at the plate. He started this season in Toledo, where he played five games. But he was called up after injuries to Wilson Ramos and Greiner.

In just a few weeks, Haase has created a scrapbook of moments:

• Game 1: Two hits in his season debut against Kansas City Royals on May 13;

• Game 4: Two home runs against Seattle on May 17;

• Game 5: Catches Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter against Seattle on May 18;

MORE FROM SEIDEL: How did Spencer Turnbull throw a no-hitter? Coaches, analytics and luck all helped

• Game 7: Starts in left field and throws out Andrew Benintendi at second base on May 21;

• Game 15: Two homers against Milwaukee on June 1;

• Game 17: Hits fifth homer of season and drives in two runs against Chicago White Sox on Friday night.

• Game 18: Crushes two more homers — his third multi-homer game of season — against the White Sox on Saturday. Of course, Hinch is using Haase in left field. Hinch can’t take him out of the lineup.

“I’m proud of him,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I feel good for him because this is kind of the offensive profile that he’s had his whole career and just never gotten the bats at the big league level to to see if it translates. He’s always hit homers. He’s got a hitter-ish look to him in the box.”

Haase has also improved his defense under Hinch.

“I think his catching has cleaned up since the first time I ever laid eyes on him,” Hinch said. “Eric’s the type of guy you root for. I know he’s got some some deep embedded Tiger love from growing up here and he’s doing it in front of family and friends. And I think we’re all pulling for him to keep this up.”

‘I love this team’

Lori was an in elevator on May 21 at Providence Hospital in Southfield, where she works as a labor and delivery nurse. She has helped bring hundreds of babies into the world over the last 26 years.

She was watching a video on her phone when Eric threw out Benintendi.

“Oh, you are a big baseball fan?” somebody asked.

“Oh no, just one,” she replied.

Her son is 28 now, a grown man, who has played 708 games in the minor leagues.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tigers have shown improvement but I’d still rather see more prospects

“For Eric, it was just all about winning,” Deegan said. “Just that blue-collar approach. And that’s what he exudes. I mean, you look at his postgame interviews within the last two weeks. And he just recognizes how lucky he is. But he’s gone through a lot of crap to get there.”

Haase has no idea how long this will last.

“I don’t take any of this for granted,” Eric said. “It’s a great group of guys. I love this team.”

He has loved it since he was a kid.

Probably always will.

And every time he comes to bat, there are people across Detroit with a lump in their throat.

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“I think I’m more nervous than he is,” Lori said. “I want him to do well. And he just gets up there and does what he does, you know. But he’s also very hard on himself. Because he feels like he’s gonna let the city down if he doesn’t do well.”

Because Eric Haase is more than a player.

He is one of us.

Born here. Raised here.

And he’s got a swing that was created in a Westland barn.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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