Chris Payne sent out video tapes of him pitching to four-year colleges with NCAA tournament backgrounds . . . and tapes went to junior colleges where other Jefferson High players had gone . . . and to places where baseball players mostly paid their own way. West Virginia University, Georgia State, Potomac State, and Towson were just a few of the schools that received mailings from a high school pitcher who had a long-lived desire to be a college player.
Payne, a 2011 graduate whose last games were played at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston when the Cougars were winning two games and the state chamnpionship, yearned to pitch at the college level.
After not going off to college for the 2011-12 school year, Payne still had the same desire to pitc
h at the college level. He had been a 5-foot-11, 170-pound righthander whose Jefferson High seasons showed him with a 6-2 record and 3.81 ERA as a junior and then a 7-3 record and 1.59 ERA as a senior.
He was not pursued by any four-year school. His fastball was ordinary and his frame didn’t forecast it would get much better.
This past spring, he was helping Jefferson High by pitching batting practice to its hitters. “We got him at 89 (miles per hour) with his best pitches, “ said Jefferson coach John Lowery. “That kind of velocity could interest some college coach.”
Payne began a summer of pitching for the Brunswick Orioles of the Blue Ridge Adult League. Through the years, Brunswick has been a place where former Jefferson High pitchers Buzzy Jackson, John Sechler, Sam Walls, and Ryan Lipscomb have played.
After his record had moved to 3-1 against the Blue Ridge teams (Hagerstown Braves, Brunswick Express, Boonsboro Pirates, Loudoun Rangers, and Martinsburg Blue Sox) Payne’s coach at Brunswick, Roger Dawson, called George Mason assistant baseball coach, Steve Hay, and told him about Payne’s more formidable fastball.
The Orioles were playing at Fireman’s Field in Purcellville against the youthful Loudoun Rangers. Hay watched the night game where Payne improved his record to 4-1 with a complete-game three-hitter as Brunswick won, 9-2.
“Coach Hay emailed me that night,” said Payne. “He arranged for a visit to the George Mason campus in northern Virginia the next week. While I was there they made me an offer and I accepted it.”
George Mason is a member of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Patriots had a 33-24 record this past spring and finished fourth in the 11-school conference. George Mason has qualified for the NCAA tournament in six different seasons, the latest being 2009.
“There is a fall baseball program at the school,” said Payne. “We will work out for about two weeks and then begin to play intrasquad games.”
NCAA Division I colleges can give 11.67 scholarships and most of them don’t award full scholarships to freshmen or first-year players. Payne will have to pay a portion of his college costs but then could earn more monetary help as his career progresses through the next four years.
Payne’s perseverance has been rewarded. He can stop the video taping and stop adding to his postal expenses.
His improved fastball has given him a chance to pitch at the college level. He could continue to improve. And he’ll need other complimentary pitches to be effective against Division I college hitters.
And about three months ago he was pitching batting practice to freshman and sophomores at Jefferson High.