Staff Photo: John Bohn Ryan Hagan plays baseball for North Gwinnett High School. Hagan will continue his baseball career and education at Presbyterian College.
SUWANEE -- At 4 years old Ryan Hagan made his mom keep score of his baseball games.
The youth league didn't keep score for games at that age, but Hagan needed to know.
"I was really competitive," Hagan said.
And really, that never changed.
Hagan kept playing baseball, but started other sports because youth baseball leagues weren't serious enough.
"I thought, 'I may as well play football,'" Hagan said.
He stuck with both up to high school when he dropped football after injuring his elbow and needing surgery. The choice was as pragmatic as it was emotive.
"Baseball ... I think it will get me the farthest," the North Gwinnett senior said. "With regards to my size as well."
Baseball got him to a playoff loss last year to eventual state champion Parkview. The shortstop's North Gwinnett team is now fighting for the top spot in Region 7-AAAAA and he will play college baseball next year at Presbyterian.
"It's a tiny school, but a huge family," Hagan said of his college choice.
He learned the importance of a family atmosphere at North.
A lifelong Gwinnett resident, Hagan's family moved to the North district during his middle school years. But when he came to North as a freshman, Hagan felt slightly put-out by the upperclassmen.
"My freshman, sophomore year it felt like the older guys had their little cliques and it wasn't really bonded together," Hagan said.
But as a senior, Hagan is changing that. The varsity spends time working out with the freshmen team and he works to build a sense of team across all the levels of the program.
"We try to involve the freshmen a lot," Hagan said. "This year we have two freshmen in the varsity lineup and we have to have respect for them."
It's that maturity that has turned Hagan into a defensive rock in the middle of the North defense and created a solid offensive player.
A .385 hitter this season, Hagan focuses first on his defense. Actually, he prefers it.
"(I love) just fielding grounders, I have always enjoyed fielding grounders better than hitting," Hagan said. "Fielding grounders is 10 times better to me. A lot of people complain in the beginning of the year because it's just defensive work and defensive work, but it's so much fun to me."
And like picking baseball over football, leaning on his defense gives Hagan the best opportunity to succeed. He notes the 17-year career of former Atlanta Brave and Pittsburgh Pirate Rafael Belliard, a career .221 hitter who played defense to the tune of a .977 career fielding percentage, averaging less than five errors a season.
"You hear people say, hitting gets you to the higher levels, but fielding keeps you there," Hagan said. "I haven't had a strong year yet in high school hitting, but my fielding, I always tried to stay on top of it."
But just like when he made his mother keep score of his games, competitiveness Hagan's brings him out every day to the cages to work on his swing and his approach.
It's about improving himself, but also it's about improving his team. Like with everything else, Hagan sees the end and works toward it.
"This year, coming off a year last year where we lost to Parkview, state champions, (in the playoffs) and felt like we should have stuck around with them," Hagan said. "We just want to come back this year stronger, better."