By Jeff Owens and staff

At 2:32 Monday afternoon, Mattoon’s Hayden Birdsong saw a dream come true.

The right-handed pitcher, who most recently played for Eastern Illinois University, was drafted in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft by the San Francisco Giants at overall pick number 196.

Surrounded by his mom and dad – Paula and Stacey Birdsong and friends – Birdsong became a professional baseball player.  His sister, at work across town, burst into tears when she heard the news.

“It’s a little kid’s dream to grow up and have the opportunity to play professional baseball,” Hayden Birdsong said. “It’s crazy to think that I could be paid to play a sport that I grew up playing with my friends. My family has always supported me to chase a dream, no matter what, and this was an unimaginable experience that I went through. I thank all of the coaches and teammates that brought me to this point so that I could be prepared to play a kid’s game with a bunch of adults. I can’t wait to take this next step in my life and make the most of it. Just a great opportunity.”

The 6-foot-4 Mattoon High grad struck out 66 batters in 45.2 innings as a reliever this past season, which earned All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honors. Birdsong also led the OVC in ERA for conference play at 1.40. The junior posted a team-best 3.35 overall ERA and had a 5-4 record in 20 appearances.

“It is very rewarding to have watched Hayden grow and develop as a baseball player from a very young age,” EIU baseball coach Jason Anderson said. “I have witnessed every step of his development in some fashion, and I could not be prouder of his accomplishments. Congratulations to Hayden, his family, and the entire Mattoon/Charleston baseball community as a whole for being a part of this. He has worked very hard to become one of the most impressive pitchers I have seen come through this area.”

Birdsong had spent his freshman season playing at Lake Land, appearing in four games during the COVID-shortened season, starting three. He struck out 20 batters in 15 innings, walked 11 and allowed 12 earned runs for a 7.20 ERA and a 1-2 record.

After an impressive fall baseball season showing, Birdsong transferred to EIU.

“Hayden was young while at Lake Land,” Lakers baseball coach Julio Godinez said. “He started living in the weight room and developing his fast balls.”

Birdsong threw a 7-inning complete game that gave Godinez his first victory as head coach at LLC – 5-3 over Jefferson College.

“Pumped for Hayden and his family and feel lucky that we were able to be a small part of his process and development,” Godinez said.

Birdsong, pitching in the Northwoods League this summer, is 2-0 record with one save in six appearances for the Lakeshore Chinooks.

Stacey Birdsong, who coached his son through several levels of baseball, including for Post 88, called it a “dream come true for all of us.”

“Very proud of Hayden,’ Stacey Birdsong said. “The time that Paula and Haley (sister) have spent chasing us around over the years have been such a sacrifice of their time, but also brought our family so many friends and memories.”

Birdsong is the eighth baseball player drafted from EIU over the past six years, and extends the school’s annual streak of players drafted to 2017. His draft position has a slot value of $251,100.