App State baseball senior sets high standard for work ethic and leadership


Leah Matney

Senior catcher Hayden Cross catches a pitch against Georgia State March 28, 2023.

Chance Chamberlain, Associate Sports Editor

The 2023 Mountaineer baseball team features a pair of brothers who have played alongside each other since high school at Southern Lee in Sanford. Senior catcher Hayden Cross’ Mountaineer career began in 2019, while junior right-handed pitcher Caleb Cross transferred from UNC-Asheville to App State in 2022.

“That was part of the decision to come to App,” Caleb Cross said. “Playing with him in high school was kind of like doing it again for his last two years.” 

Hayden Cross has improved progressively after being named All-Sun Belt second team catcher in 2022. Along with the award, he posted 54 hits and 28 runs in 2022. He’s part of a group of seniors that have returned, and has become one of the leaders on and off the field.

When Hayden Cross started his Mountaineer career in 2019, he felt like a part of the team immediately and acclimating to the locker room was quick. He prefaced the importance of becoming comfortable with the team, before stepping onto the field, as he felt a part of the team when he first arrived in Boone. 

His younger brother, Caleb Cross, was a relief pitcher in 2022, posting a 4.22 ERA. In 2023, he started as a relief pitcher, but is being worked into the starting rotation to finish the season. 

When Caleb Cross is on the mound, he’s not pitching to a catcher. He’s pitching to his brother at home plate. To Hayden Cross, it’s just another pitcher-catcher relationship and doesn’t take that bond any differently than what they have together. Caleb Cross sees it the same way as they’re just teammates at the end of the day, and it doesn’t change what goes on out on the field. 

During the off-season, teammates train with each other, but many go their separate ways when the holidays arrive. However, this isn’t the case for the Cross brothers, who continue training together during the holiday break with family. 

“I think it’s a lot easier going home, like, Christmas break just because Caleb’s there,” Hayden Cross said. “If he’s going to hit, I’m going to hit. If he’s going to lift, I’m going to lift.”

With the end of the 2023 season nearing, Hayden Cross will take the next steps toward coaching as he’ll serve as an assistant coach for the Boone Bigfoots in the summer. He has larger aspirations to fully commit to coaching after graduating. 

Once Hayden Cross hangs up the black and gold jersey, he’ll leave behind his legacy with the impact he’s made for App State.

“He’s left a tremendous impact on our program, and he’s still making it,” said head coach Kermit Smith.

The work ethic he brought to Boone affected not only himself, but his teammates through leading by example, Smith said.

“He’s always kept the same level of work ethic and integrity with his work,” Smith said. 

Throughout the process of maturing as a freshman to being a senior and leading this Mountaineer team, Hayden Cross had to grow mentally and physically.

His maturity has probably changed the most and Hayden Cross’ ability to handle bad days and come back the next day like it was opening day stood out, Smith said.

Hayden Cross’ leadership has allowed current teammates to succeed and pave a path for the future of App State baseball.

For Hayden Cross, being a leader isn’t new, as being a leader comes with playing the catcher’s position. Catchers have the responsibility of catching all the pitches, while also suggesting pitch selections with signs to the man on the mound. 

To become a leader within a team, a player has to build a bond with their coaches. The relationship between Hayden Cross and Smith has been tight-knit.

  “It sounds so foreign that a 46-year-old and a 22-year-old or 23-year-old would have a bond,” Smith said. “It only happens really in athletics, and that’s what makes it so special and honestly magical.”

Hayden Cross feels the bond that Smith speaks about in athletics, as he’s felt a part of the coaching staff’s family since he committed to playing baseball at App State. Once the day arrives next season where Smith won’t be able to write Hayden Cross’ name in the lineup card anymore, he said it’ll be emotional for him, since their relationship will have to continue outside of baseball.

Throughout his time at App State, Hayden Cross’ work has been shown at Smith Stadium for the Mountaineer faithful to witness as fans see the reflection of what he’s brought to this program.

Even as the season is ending, Hayden Cross still has one goal to accomplish before stepping off the field one last time.

“I just want to win while we’re here,” Hayden Cross said.