Holladay • Nick Ward always could hear the music blaring from the other side of Olympus High School’s sprawling campus as he laced up his cleats, slipped on his pads and carried his helmet out to football practice on those fall afternoons. The tunes were one thing, but those discernible pings, the sound of alloy making contact with a ball again and again, always served as confirmation.
“I know it’s Hayden,” Ward would tell himself.
Digging into the batter’s box, settling into his stance and staring at the stitches is where Hayden Curtis went to tune it all out. And still does. Before his senior year began, before he once more became one of the most indispensable players in Class 5A baseball, Curtis plopped a ball on a tee and just tried to envision the spring, the last few months of being a Titan along with the 14 other members of the senior class, to load up and release.
Every day for about 45 minutes, either in the batting cages at Olympus or on the team’s field beneath the jagged, snow-packed mountains in the near distance, he goes through two buckets to teach himself patience and replicate the moments he’s excelled in during this fantastic final high school season.
“I just try to be the best, and I want to be the best,” Curtis said. “Just never settling for what the normal is.”
Olympus baseball coach Brent Burton describes his senior second baseman and closer as a “field rat,” meaning he’s the baseball equivalent to a gym rat. He lives at the field. If he’s bored and you have trouble finding him, that’s where he’ll be. Burton has had to tell him to put the bat down on more than one occasion.
“If anything, it’s go home, eat dinner,” Burton chuckles during a weekday practice.
Curtis has been mashing at the plate. He leads a stacked 21-2 Titans team in average, hits, RBIs, doubles, triples and homers. Curtis is hitting .493 with eight doubles, four triples, four homers and one grand slam this a season after he led Olympus in average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage last season. Burton said Curtis’ plate discipline has improved immensely, which gives the staff more license to turn him loose in different situational at-bats, upon which he regularly delivers.
“We don’t put a lot of restrictions on him, so we trust him a lot,” Burton said. “He’s focused on hitting line drives and situational hitting. Yeah, he’ll still hit a couple out of the park, but when he needs a base hit, he gives us a base hit.”
And when Burton needs to slam the door shut, which hasn’t been that often during Olympus’ run, he signals to second base.
Curtis doubles as the Olympus closer. He has four saves and is 3-0 on the mound in 10 appearances this season. Before he unleashes his first pitch, Ward makes it a priority to hype up his friend and teammate with some timely advice.
“Don’t let the other guy beat you,” Ward says.
Ward knows that will resonate.
It admittedly takes some time for Curtis to flip the switch, to go from getting on base or turning a double play to finding a way to slow it all down, to ensure the adrenaline isn’t free flowing and to just pitch. Like every day working off the tee, he has to find his way to block out everything on the mound.
“It’s hard to be around people,” Curtis said. “There’s too much going on.”
Senior outfielder Nick Wankier credits that sort of intensity to Olympus’ impressive 2018 season and hopes it continues in the weeks to come with the postseason and a guaranteed high seed just around the corner.
“He carries himself in a way that he’s confident in himself, but he’s never boasting or in your face about it,” Wankier said about Curtis. “He believes in himself, and he believes in us.”
Burton said you’re always on an island in baseball, that it’s only you taking a deep breath before a pitch is hurled your way, only you and your glove when a ball is ripped in your direction, only you on the bump. That’s where Curtis wants to be — as much as possible — with it all on the line.
“He embraces every situation,” Burton said. “He wants to be the guy at the plate in a big situation, he wants the ground ball hit to him in a big situation, he wants to be on the mound when we need to close out a game. Hayden craves that.”
School • Olympus
Year • Senior
Positions • Second base/Closer
Batting average • .493
Runs batted in • 26
Runs scored • 25
Pitching record • 3-0
Saves • 4
Innings pitched • 19.1
Ks • 23
BBs • 4
ERA • 0.00