By Jackson White
-- Jay Payton is a proud family man and an alum of Midland. Payton is one of the special men to come through the Midland program to have a great amount of success at the college and professional level, making him one type of special player, but more importantly, a special human being. Although Payton’s playing days are behind him now, he was able to sit down and catch up’ with the Midland family about where he is in life now.
Payton was born and raised in Zanesville, Ohio. He was able to talk about his baseball upbringing in Zanesville, and how he fell in love with the game at an early age.
“I think the first year I started playing was when I was seven. From as far as I could remember, I was just always able to pick up a bat and hit, I didn’t have any special training, my dad and I would just go out and he threw balls to me all the time. I grew up in a small town, Zanesville, Ohio where we didn’t have a huge amount of baseball history, there weren’t a bunch of great colleges around me where I could go to camps. I did play basketball, soccer and football, but I just always loved baseball and I loved hitting. I loved going places to just hit because I was good at it. When I was twelve, playing in my little town of Zanesville, I think I hit thirty-six home runs in that league, and I thought that baseball would probably be my best sport.,” Payton said.
“I got to play on our local team, we had a pretty good little local team called the Junior Pioneers, mostly filled with 17- and 18-year-old guys, I think I made the team as a 16-year-old, and once I got a chance to play, I played really well and it showed me that I could really play against older kids. In high school, we didn’t face really a bunch of great competition, my whole high school career I bet I didn’t face more than 4 or 5 guys who threw over 84-85 MPH, but I started four years on varsity and probably had a pretty close average to .500 every year,” Payton added.
Payton was able to discuss playing for Midland, and he described the impact it had on him in his baseball career, and how it helped him in his development.
“Playing for Midland, that’s when the true light went off for me. When Dave [Evans] and Joe [Hayden] asked me to come down and play, it was obviously a great opportunity for me, and until I went down there I wouldn’t say I doubted myself, but I wondered. Going there not really knowing what I was getting myself into, and the competition we would be playing. Getting to play for Midland, getting to travel everywhere and being seen by a bunch of different people, it was great for me. Then when I started having a lot of success for Midland I thought that I had a chance to be pretty good,” Payton said.
“The biggest part of my career was going to Midland. There was a scout named Larry Thomas who told Joe [Hayden] to come up and get this guy, and I had no idea who Larry Thomas even was at the time, but Joe took his word for it. I owe my baseball path that I ended up on to Joe and Dave, and also to Larry Thomas who pointed me in that direction to go to Midland. In your life you will probably have 1 or 2 people who have a big impact on you, and thanks to Larry Thomas telling Joe about me, it basically changed my entire baseball path,” Payton added.
Payton was also able to talk about the recruiting process for him personally, how that process entailed, and what led him ultimately to Georgia Tech.
“After having some success for Midland, a lot of colleges started to realize that I hadn’t actually signed a letter of intent. I remember talking to the guy from Hawaii and several other D1 schools, but in high school I always sent videos and letters to Georgia Tech, I’m not even sure how I got onto Georgia Tech as a school I wanted to go to but I always sent letters there. At the time, Jim Morris was the head coach and he never came and saw me play. Coach Jones, who was the assistant, came to see me play, I remember when we were in Tennessee. I had a game where I went 4-4 and hit 2 homers. He talked to Joe Hayden after the game, and asked about me, Joe told him about my situation (possibly) playing for Ohio State. He went on to tell them that if they offered me a full scholarship, he was pretty sure I’d take it. It’s very hard to get a full scholarship in baseball, but low and behold I did, and I ended up playing down there with Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varatek. My Junior year I just pretty much rode their coattails batting clean-up. I’m pretty sure both of those guys had a .600 on-base percentage, which helped me in my last year hit 20 home-runs and lead the country with a 102 RBIs,” Payton said.
Payton was able to discuss the impact Joe Hayden had on him, and how Hayden changed his life during and after his time as a Redskin.
“Joe having that team, that organization, and plucking me out of Zanesville, Ohio, unseen, that changed my life in an amazing way as far as playing baseball. I went there and got a job, but even better I got to stay with the Larkin family. Steven was on the team at the time, and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got to go and play for this amazing travel team, for this generous man that just loves the game of baseball and puts a ton of money, time and effort into it because he wants to develop kids and loves helping kids. On top of that, getting to stay with the Larkins, getting to meet Barry who was baseball royalty in Ohio at that point, it was amazing and I owe it to Joe for giving me that opportunity to play for him,” Payton said.
Payton was able to share his favorite memory from his time at Midland, and why it is his favorite memory to this day.
“Midland pretty much ends up in that Connie Mack World Series every year, and I remember getting to play in that championship game. I think I hit a home run my first at-bat down there and I was named the MVP of that tournament, and I always remember winning that championship game. I also remember, (and we love him to this day, God rest his soul), but my mom knocked some lady over trying to ran over to see [former Midland coach] Ralph Smith and give him a hug,” Payton said with a laugh.
When he was asked to share who his biggest influence in his baseball career was, he became emotional talking about who those people were and why they were his biggest influence.
“My biggest influence would have to be my parents. You know, I was always the kid who wanted to go hit all the time, I wanted to go work on my game, I wanted to do whatever, and my dad never ever said no. I get emotional talking about my pops… he’s just a good man; he doesn’t swear, doesn’t drink, he’s just a calm, cool guy. Anytime I wanted to hit, he was always there and my mom would go shag balls for me and stand out there. My parents are definitely my biggest influence without a doubt,” Payton said.
“I also have to give my brother a shout out. It feels like all good athletes have an older brother; my brother was three and a half years older than me, when you have that, you want to be around him and play with him and his buddies. I think that helped me want to become better because I wanted to be good enough to play with the older guys, he definitely had a big impact on me,” Payton said.
Payton’s parents are James Sr. and Beth Payton, and his brother’s name is James Jr. Payton is now living in Texas with is 16-year-old son, Preston. The proud tradition and legacy of Midland can be attributed to guys like Payton who played the game the right way and were always about the team first. Payton is a great former player, but an even better human-being and he continues to make the Midland family proud, even while his playing days are behind him, Payton will always be a Redskin.