PULLMAN —Twenty-four year old Keaton Hayenga’s path to the hardwood in Pullman was unconventional.
In 2007, the Eastlake High School pitcher verbally committed to take the mound for the Washington State University Cougars baseball team but then got drafted by the Kansas City Royals.
“Just to be able to pursue that was a life long goal,” said Hayenga.
Keaton hit the road with the Burlington Royals, the Burlington Bees and the Kane County Cougars minor league teams. He pitched in 38 games in more than five season. But an old injury came back to haunt him.
“I re-injured my pitching shoulder that I’d previously had surgery on,” Hayenga said. “I tried to rehab it for the season and it was going to end up that I was going to have to get another surgery and having gone through that once before, I knew what it was going to entail. It just didn’t seem worth it anymore.”
So Keaton hung up is cleats and came home. Two weeks after he retired, he was in the gym playing basketball for Bellevue College. Keaton averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds a game for the Bulldogs.
But with his sights set on a Sports Management degree, he knew he had to get back to WSU. So he reached out to men’s basketball coach Ken Bone. Bone was more than happy to hear from the star athlete.
“Keaton’s a special guy,” Bone said. “With his experience and the type of kid he is, high character guy, his willingness to share with our guys and bring things to a good perspective has been invaluable.”
Keaton, a seasoned sports veteran after years on the baseball road, hopes to bring a mature perspective to the Cougars basketball team.
“Maybe that’s what I can offer this team is a little different perspective on things. I’ve been through some stuff that a lot of guys haven’t seen or gotten a chance to do yet, so I hope that I can just be a good influence,” Keaton said.
“It’s something I can talk about or other coaches but he’s actually lived it. He’s actually played professional sports and he’s their peer so its great to have Keaton around because there is a lot of wisdom there for our players,” said Bone. ”I’m just still so glad that I’m here and so thankful that I’ve gotten this opportunity. Everything in life happens for a reason and I’ve been tremendously blessed.”
Keaton may still get out on the field now and then. He tells Q It Up Sports that the basketball team plans on playing intramural softball this spring.