The locker-room whiteboard said it all, in plain old straight talk for the Roadrunners to see.

“Where’s the fire in this team?!” said one message scrawled in black ink. Another exclaimed, “You play for rings, not paychecks.” The third note is not printable in a family newspaper, but exhorted the Runners to get their acts together, and fast.

Truly, it had been a down stretch for the men in red, as they lost six of eight on a road trip ending July 23 and were about to go down for the third night in a row at home to the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings.

Not even breaking out the dreaded mustard-yellow jerseys (which the club had en masse refused to wear at season’s start, only to relent to try and get some better luck over the weekend) helped. Having fallen into fifth place in the 6-team ULB, Edinburg has many questions, but cannot blame Tim Haines for dragging into the Dog Days.

The former Sharyland All-Star has been the team’s most consistent pitcher in 2009, hurling in front of the home folks from Mission and also Edinburg, where he attended The University of Texas-Pan American for two seasons before turning pro in 2006.

The tall, thin righty posted a 2.76 ERA through the first half of the season, and had allowed just 13 walks against 64 strikeouts in 62 innings. For a guy whose main trouble has been control, the season has been just what the doctor ordered. Though he’d compiled just a 4-4 record to that point, Haines was satisfied with what was going down.

“Am I surprised at the control, well, yes,” he said. “But really, it’s what I’ve always expected, in a way.”

Manager Vince Moore said that he is lucky to have the Valley kid on staff, because he has all the tools, including a 90 mph fastball and solid breaking stuff. Moore noted that one of the only things that’s kept Haines from rising in the minors is his tendency to get a little wild.

“I think he has the stuff to get back into affiliated ball, he belongs there,” said Moore, of the mound ace who once set a program record for saves at UTPA and was drafted by the New York Mets in 2006 after his sophomore season. “And this year he’s been getting the ball over…there may be some guys coming down here to look at Tim before it’s through.”

Haines credits a change in arm angle for his newfound control.

“I used to be a sidearmer, I did that to make the team in college,” he admits. “People were impressed with that, they said it was cool and that I was able to keep the hitters off balance that way. But it didn’t do much for throwing strikes, so I have gone back to three-quarters, close to overhand now, and it’s working.”

Working well enough to produce a 13-strikeout performance earlier in the season. And even when he’s not totally on, Haines has kept his team close. Case in point, the start June 24 against RGV, when he pitched into the eighth before leaving. He allowed five runs, but only three were earned, and although the Runners lost it down the stretch, Haines gave them a chance to win.

GOOD PEDIGREE

And winning is something the affable 24-year-old was once used to, as he came up in the awesome Sharyland program. The Rattlers won district all four years when Haines was there, and as a senior, he went 10-1 with a 1.21 ERA, fanning 95 batters and walking just 24, hitting .338 as well.

“Bart Bickerton was my coach, and he’s really tough,” said the Runner star, who moved to the Valley from San Antonio as a youngster. “There’s no nonsense on the field, but he’s a fun guy off it. I figured if I could handle four years with Bickerton, I was ready for anything. They have such a great program. Now they are building the junior high team, too, teaching the exact same things the kids will need to know when they get to the varsity level.”

And Haines has done his share of learning in his brief career, partly out of necessity. As stated, he was picked up by the Mets in ’06, and threw for Brooklyn in the New York-Penn League that year. He did well, too, fashioning a 3.09 ERA with two wins and three saves before the bottom dropped out. And it had nothing to do with baseball.

Haines was one of five prospects in the Mets’ organization that year who tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance, this just weeks after he arrived in the minors. He was banned for 50 games and released at the end of the year.

Just like that, all his dreams were on hold, and though he doesn’t like to talk much about it, obviously, Haines has done some thinking since then.

“My past has hurt me, sure it has,” he admitted. “It’s like there’s a cloud hanging over my head. It would be nice if people could look past it, and I would love to get a second chance in affiliated ball. I’ve cleaned up my act.”

The UTPA ex noted that there is a lot of pressure to perform in professional baseball, but also added that he is not making any excuses.

“It was a time in my life when I made the wrong choices, headed down the wrong road, and I realize that now,” he said, shaking his head. “But you live and learn, I think. Despite the pressure, you have to follow the rules, period.”

Now it all seems like a universe away. Haines was picked up by Coastal Bend of the independent American Association, and spent two years in that league. In 2007 he won five times and struck out 85 batters in 82 innings, but tossed 13 wild pitches as his submarine style developed some flaws. The next season he was again one of the leading swingmen in the league, with five wins and 69 K’s in 84 frames.

The arm he used at Pan Am to become a two-time All-Independent choice was still intact, and he decided to take a shot back at Edinburg Baseball Stadium, where he had been a college standout on a Bronc squad of ’06 that produced eight players in the draft despite a sub-.500 record overall.

In 2009, he’s become a full-time starter, like in high school, and has been one of the league’s top chunkers. Haines stressed that a starter puts less wear on the arm on a daily basis, as he only gets called upon to work every fourth or fifth day.

“I threw a ton of innings the past few years, said the right-hander, who walked 90 hitters from 2007-2008, a stark contrast to his excellent command of the strike zone in 2009. “I guess maybe that hurt my control some, I mean, you never know when you might be throwing three or four games in a row in relief, it’s hard on the body. I much prefer the starter’s role.”

And the Runners prefer to trot Haines out there in his turn, because he is dominating the ULB. In his quest to return to the minors, the Sharyland legend knows that nothing is guaranteed. He had one shot, and it didn’t work out the way he planned. Now is now, though, and Haines has filed the lessons away in the back of his mind as he works hard to do what he needs to do.

“Sure I want to get back up there, but right now this is my team, and I want to help the Roadrunners get a ring,” he said. “I’ve heard a few things about the scouts coming down here and I hope they do. But until that happens, I’m just not going to worry about it.”