By Jason Upton // Bells Beat Writer
Now batting, for your Bellingham Bells…. Elijahhhhhh HAINNNNNNLINE
The unmistakable call of the Bells’ leadoff hitter is something that gets every head to turn at Joe Martin Stadium. Hainline, the Bells’ latest hitting phenom, has given the fans plenty to cheer about so far into the season, leading the team in nearly every significant hitting statistic.
Hainline starts the 2022 season with a 16-game on-base streak and has hit safely in every WCL game the Bells have played this year, except one, as of June 20. He’s currently leading the WCL with eleven stolen bases, and boasts a slash line of .364/.438/.564. Out of Bells hitters with at least 20 plate appearances this season, he ranks first in each of those batting categories, as well as first in runs, doubles and RBI, with twice as many hits as the next closest Bell.
All this is much improved from his year at Washington State, where he hit .228/.339/.291 with 26 runs, 21 RBI and a single homer in 158 at-bats at third base. As one of the youngest players on the team at just 19 years of age, Hainline has already shown rapid growth from his freshman stint with the Cougars. Though the WCL is a step lower than the PAC-12 from a difficulty standpoint, Hainline sees this as a valuable learning experience for his career.
“Overall, it’s still good competition and you still have to show up everyday and play, but it’s a lot less pressure having a little more fun with guys you’ve never played with before,” Hainline said.
The noise from both the fans in the stadium and the players in the dugout reach a maximum when #2 strolls up to the plate, as any die-hard Bells fan will tell you. Though he focuses on drowning out the noise and devoting his attention to his hitting, Hainline appreciates the energy that fills Joe Martin Field during his at-bats.
“Personally, I don’t really hear it much but it always helps, getting the crowd into it, you love to see it,” Hainline said.
He began the season hitting seventh in the lineup, and proved his value to the team in the season opening series against Springfield, where he was rewarded with the leadoff spot by the third game.
Now the staple leadoff hitter for the Bells, Hainline has floated between second base, shortstop and third base on defense. He played all three positions in the previous two series against Wenatchee.
It’s clear how impressive Hainline’s bat has been, but his defense is something Brian Green, his coach at Washington State, puts real emphasis on.
“His defense is so special, his motor is so special and he’s got one of the best gas meters on our team,” Green said. “Five errors as a freshman at third base, that’s unheard of in the PAC-12.”
And it’s not just the on-field performance that makes a player like Hainline so exceptional. To Green, it’s the unflappable commitment Hainline dedicates to his craft, the long hours he spends to fine-tune his game. Green calls him somewhat of a “baseball rat.”
“His makeup and his work ethic and his talent is as good of a freshman, from a mentality standpoint,” Green said. “He’s so goal oriented; I mean the guy eats, sleeps, breathes baseball, that’s all he does.”
According to Green, Hainline went into the summer with several specific goals. He wanted to flatten his bat path out, become a better runner and improve his two-strike hitting; all things that Green believes he is executing early on in this season. In Hainline’s 158 at-bats at WSU, he stole two bases. In his 55 at-bats so far with the Bells, he’s stolen a league-leading 12.
Green recently returned from the All-American baseball committee meeting, where he spoke incredibly highly of Hainline’s future as a ball player.
“I said, ‘I’ve got a player from Spokane, WA who I’m going to be telling you guys about either next year or the year after, has a Gold Glove nominee as the best defender at his position in the country,’” Green remarked. “And I really believe that. He’s special.”
Going forward with his career, Green carries lofty expectations for Hainline, but only because he knows the young infielder can deliver.
“My goals are very simple for Elijah: It’s a guy who can hit .320 and steal 20 and hit some home runs, but have a 1:1 offensive ratio and be one of the best defenders in the PAC-12, and I think he can do that,” Green said.
“As a junior, you’re going to look up and the dude’s going to be a fifth rounder, and maybe better. He’s a baller.”