By Jackson White
-- Landon Powell is a special man. Among the many titles he holds now: a loving husband and dad, a college baseball head coach, a former MLB player, and last but not least, a former Midland Redskin. Powell is one of the special young men who came through the Midland program, leaving his own positive mark, and is now influencing other young men through the game of baseball. Powell was able to sit down, and ‘catch up’ with the Midland program and family.
Powell was born and raised in Apex, North Carolina. He attended Apex high school, just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. Along with playing basketball, Powell also was the starting QB for the football team, and the Power Forward for the basketball team, Powell was not just a one sport athlete, and he carried other interests outside of the game of baseball, as well, during his high school career.
Powell said of high school sports days, “Our football and basketball teams weren’t very good, I believe our basketball team was like 7-17, or something. But our baseball team was very good, and we had a really nice team. In high school, I played all three sports, all throughout high school. I actually left high school early, and graduated early. During this time, it was the same time as all of the stuff that was happening with Midland, but I only went to high school for three years, and graduated after my junior year.”
Powell then would go on to attend the University of South Carolina, and he talked about what went into his decision, and why South Carolina was the right place for him.
“Growing up my dad played baseball at NC State, and [former South Carolina baseball coach] Ray Tanner was one of the young guys coming through the program at the time my dad was graduating, so Coach Tanner was now the baseball coach at NC State when I was a kid. My dad would take me over, and he’d drop me off, and I would batboy for the team as a 5 and 6 year old kid. My dad was also an ACC umpire, so he would do a lot of NC State non-conference games, and he would take me over, and I would always batboy for one of the teams, usually NC State for Coach Tanner. So that was really where my relationship with Coach Tanner really started and took off,” Powell said.
“Fast forward to high school, and Coach Tanner was now the head coach at the University of South Carolina. His assistant coach was a guy named Jim Toman, who had also been at NC State when I was a kid. Coach Toman was also one of the best catching coaches in the country, and he was really known for developing catchers. They were at South Carolina, so that’s where I wanted to go. I basically had decided wherever they were, that’s where I was going to go play, and it just so happened they were at South Carolina,” Powell added.
Powell was not someone who immediately had Midland on his radar growing up, but once he heard about it, he visited, and he was able to describe how he had become aware of Midland, and what his initial reaction to Midland was.
“I believe I became aware of Midland because they had contacted me, and they had recruited me. I don’t remember that part extremely well, though. I just remember, I had finished my junior year of high school, and by this time I was a pretty well-known player. I played in a lot of the National Showcases, and I believe Baseball America had me pretty highly rated, so I think Midland had kind of scouted me out, and had heard of me. But, I do remember we drove up to Midland, and did a visit, just like a college kid would do a visit to a school. I went up and met Coach E, the coaching staff, and ‘Papa’ Joe Hayden, and I saw the facilities, and it was just awesome. As a 17 year old kid, to have the opportunity to go play at Midland, and go play where all these big league guys had played, was really special. I remember walking into the office, and seeing all of the posters of Barry Larkin, and Ken Griffey, and all of the MLB players who had played there, I was just really impressed by the history and the tradition of the organization right off the bat,” Powell said.
As many of the young men who come through Midland, Powell had favorite memories, and times that stuck out to him about that summer, and he was able to share a few of those.
“There’s a lot of great memories from that summer. I loved the coaching staff, I really enjoyed Coach Evans and Mrs. Evans, getting to know them and getting to live with them. The two biggest things I can remember from that summer was, one, something that was kind of weird but sticks out to me because it doesn’t happen in baseball much. We had a guy named Christian Stavely, who I believe went to Ohio State, hit four consecutive home runs in consecutive at-bats. I remember it happened at Midland when he hit those four home-runs. I remember the fourth at-bat, after he had three before that, he got up to bat, and the pitcher threw him an eephus pitch, and it was a strike, and we were all in the dugout laughing. Next pitch he throws another eephus pitch, I mean this pitch looked like it hit the sky, and it was also a strike. I believe they had him 1-2, by throwing eephus pitches, and the pitcher wound up and acted like he was going to throw another eephus pitch, but at the last second he tried to throw it really hard, and blow one past him, and Christian killed it, and hit his fourth home run in four at-bats,” Powell said laughingly.
“Farmington was the other memory that really stands out. It was just a really great experience. Seeing how the town really rallied around the event, and staying with the host families, doing the home run derby, it was all a great time and a great experience. In general though, I really loved my whole summer up there, and enjoyed every part of playing for Midland,” Powell added. Powell is perhaps best known for his work behind the plate during Dallas Brayden’s perfect game for the Oakland Athletics. Being in such a sacred place in baseball history, Powell was able to open up about the game, and that day in general, and he also shared a few tidbits about that day that maybe the fans wouldn’t necessarily know.
“In pro-ball me and Dallas were drafted together, so I had caught him pretty much at every level in the minor leagues, and we were rookies at the major league level together, so I was very familiar with him, having caught him one hundred times before that day. He went out that day, his best pitch was a screwball, he also threw a fastball, slider, but his screwball was working really good that day, and that was something I recognized from the get-go. I think the first inning was three up, three down, second inning there were a couple balls hit hard, but the plays were made. Another fun fact about that day, before I get too far into this, the left fielder that day was Eric Patterson, another former Midland Redskin, so we had two Redskins in the lineup that day for the perfect game,” Powell said.
“I didn’t really think much of it early in the game, I’ve been in a lot of games where there was a no-hitter going into the 5th, 6th, 7th innings of a game, but something always would finally happen. Dallas was not an all-star or a stud by any means for the major league level, he was just a contact left-hander. He had never thrown a complete game at that point in his career, and his E.R.A was in the 5s somewhere, so he wasn't really a guy that anybody thought something like this would happen to. It was about the 6th inning, and I knew he was pitching well, I think we were up like 3-0, pretty much cruising along, well I looked up on the scoreboard that inning, and I was like ‘man he’s got a no-hitter going!’ But as I was looking at the scoreboard, I said ‘wait a second, I don’t think he’s walked anybody, and no errors, and that’s the first time it dawned on me this isn’t a no-hitter, this is a perfect game!’ I mean that is a big deal, a perfect game has happened only 18 times, and that was when I got a lump in my throat, and I finally realized the severity of what was happening,” Powell added.
He continued by saying, “I figured something would happen, that’s just how baseball has always worked. But that whole day was just awesome, it seemed like everything just lined up that day perfectly,” Powell said.
Powell was also able to share something interesting that happened during the game, that a lot of people didn’t really recognize or know about.
“This is something that always sticks with me. This is like the 4th inning, Dallas threw a ball in the dirt, I blocked it, it rolled away from me, so I went and picked it up. Well the home plate umpire that day, Jim Wolf went to flip me a ball. We were probably about 15 feet away from each other. Well, I flipped him the ball that went in the dirt, and when I flipped it to him, both of those balls collided in mid-air, and we just laughed about it, whatever,” Powell said.
“Three innings later, in the 7th inning, Brayden decides he wants a new ball. So he looked at me and waved the ball, signaling for a new ball. Well Jim Wolf is known as an umpire that likes to throw the ball back to the pitcher, and he threw those balls hard, too, so he could show his arm off. Well Jim threw him a ball, and the balls collided in mid-air again. I had never seen this happen between an umpire and a player, much less twice in a game before, so that was something that I’ll never forget about that game,” Powell said.
Powell also was able to open up on the impact that the Midland program had on him as a baseball player, as well as a person.
He shared, “Midland definitely impacted me as a player. I was just a country kid from North Carolina, and to go up there and play with some of the best players in the country, guys that had come all across the country to play there, and for me to also realize that I was good enough, and that I fit in, and I could compete with the best of the best, it without a doubt elevated my game. On a personal standpoint, it was also huge. I ended up making relationships with folks that lasted forever, and still do, and I see Midland guys everywhere I go, and we really are a part of one family, it’s really a fraternity between us,” Powell said.
“Developing a relationship specifically with Coach E and Mrs. Evans, that ended up being very valuable to me later in life. My daughter got sick, and she got moved up into the hospital in Cincinnati, so when that happened, me and my wife were just really heartbroken, and lost in a lot of ways, but going up to Cincinnati, living in the hospital everyday, and not knowing anyone but Coach Evans and Mrs. Evans, they made me feel at home. They let me come stay with them, and they really treated me like I was one of their own. Mrs. Evans would always make me breakfast every morning, and Coach E would come down and watch football games with me. That time in my and my wife’s life was really tough for us, but Coach Evans and Mrs. Evans really helped us during that time,” Powell said.
Powell retired from playing professional baseball in 2013, and moved back to his home of Greenville, South Carolina. He spent one year as the pitching coach at Furman University, before accepting the head job at North Greenville University, where he has spent the last 7 years, turning them into a nationally relevant and respected program in Division 2. He resides in Greenville with his wife, Allyson, his daughter Ellie, his son Holden, and they carry on the legacy of their daughter, Izzy, who passed away. Powell summed up his journey in baseball and life by saying “You go through highs, and you go through lows, enjoy the highs, because the lows might suck sometimes, but the highs are really great and this is really a time of year that my family and I are really enjoying,” Powell said.