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THE HIGH SCHOOLS : Burbank Coach Gets Safe Call and Gives Up Racing

May 03, 1987|JOHN LYNCH | Times Staff Writer

Somewhere outside Barstow, the reality began to take hold.

Maybe there are safer ways for a middle-aged man to spend his free time than racing motorcycles across the California desert. That thought--between surges of gruesome pain--ran through his mind as Leonard Haynes lay in the dirt.

Moments before, his motorcycle had been sideswiped, hurtling Haynes over the handlebars. "I'm all right," he thought after he thumped to the ground. But that was before another motorcycle ran over his leg, shattering his left kneecap.

Shortly after the Nov. 30 accident Haynes, the Burbank High baseball coach, underwent surgery, his second operation of the year. Earlier in 1986, he went over those same handlebars and broke his collarbone. He got back on his bike that day and finished the race--even won it.

But the knee injury was more serious. It was weeks before he could walk again and he faced a lengthy rehabilitation regimen. At 48, Haynes took stock of his life style.

"That last accident was like a warning," Haynes said. "When I was lying in the hospital I thought about where my values should lie. I should slow down and spend more time with my family. Maybe racing at high speeds at my age is not the best thing to be doing. My racing days were over."

Haynes has recovered and is coaching his seventh season at Burbank. But the injury has put an end to another career for Haynes, who for the past six years has been a batting practice pitcher for the Dodgers.

Haynes threw pregame practice during the season on Dodger home stands and also worked out with the team during pre-spring training sessions at Dodger Stadium.

A chance meeting with Manager Tom Lasorda led to the job with the Dodgers.

Before the 1981 season, Haynes and good friend and fellow Valencia resident Mike Gillespie, the the USC and former College of the Canyons coach, attended a baseball coaches convention in Houston that featured Lasorda. After one of the conferences, Lasorda joined Haynes and Gillespie and their wives at a table at the hotel bar.

"We were just sitting there and Lasorda came over and asked us if he could join us," Haynes said. "He said he wanted to get away from some reporters. After a few minutes it was like we were old friends. He wanted to know what it was like being a high school coach and later he took our wives out to lunch. At the end of the convention, he told us to call him at Dodger Stadium and we would be his guest."

Haynes returned home from the convention with the Lasorda story that made the rounds in Valencia, but he thought Lasorda's invitation was no more than polite social talk.

Then one night about midnight he received a call at home from someone claiming to be Lasorda.

"I didn't believe it was him," Haynes said. "I thought one of my friends who heard the story was kidding me."

Eventually Haynes was convinced that the Dodger manager was on the other end of the line.

"The Dodgers had just lost a close game and he was feeling bad," Haynes said. "He said all the reporters didn't like him and they thought he couldn't manage. Then he said that at least the Burbank High coach would come out and see him."

That weekend, Haynes was Lasorda's guest at Dodger Stadium. During the visit, Lasorda mentioned the team had an opening for a batting-practice pitcher and after a tryout, Haynes got the job, which pays "about $30 or $40 a night."

His first night in a Dodger uniform was a memorable moment for Haynes.

"I just about passed out when they gave me the uniform, and my heart was throbbing when I walked onto the field," he said. "I'd been throwing batting practice for 15 years but when I walked to the mound I thought my legs were going to collapse. I think the first guys I threw to were Steve Garvey and Ron Cey."

Haynes has used his Dodger connection to give his players the experience of shagging fly balls at Dodger Stadium. "If you want to psych up a kid, that will do it," he said.

The Dodger connection has come to an end for now, along with the motorcycle racing, as Haynes turns more attention to home. He won't be bored, however. He is a former professional musician and composes songs on the guitar and piano in a small recording studio he maintains at home.

But he remains a little restless. His knee is healing and last week he went motorcycle riding. Hadn't he said his racing days are over?

"Well, probably," he said. "But it's something that's under my skin. But I'll probably just ride for fun."

Add Haynes: This wasn't a good week for Haynes and the Burbank team, which dropped a pair of Foothill League games to Hart. Burbank took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning Tuesday but gave up the tying run and lost in 10 innings, 6-2. On Friday, Hart held off a last-inning Burbank rally and won, 3-2.

Burbank (13-7, 5-6) started the week with a chance to move into second place but has fallen to fourth. In past years, only three league teams have advanced to the playoffs.

Said Haynes: "I'm going to get out there and break my butt throwing batting practice because we want to go to the playoffs. Our kids deserve it."

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