For Generals pitcher Blake Payne, it's a summer homecoming
May 31, 2010 at 12:31 a.m.
Blake Payne already had a formidable repertoire. But he felt he still needed more.
"I'm a fastball-slider-changeup pitcher," he said. "I like to get ahead early with the fastball and use the slider as my out pitch."
Before the start of his second season playing baseball at Seminole State College in Seminole, Okla., he went back to the drawing board to develop something different.
"It was early in January, and I was just playing catch in our in-door facility in Oklahoma," he said. "I started messing around with it from the first couple of times I threw it. So I just kept working on it and working on it, and it became one of my best pitches."
The 20-year-old Payne, who graduated from Memorial in 2008, is returning for a second season with the Generals, his hometown team, added a fourth pitch to his game, hoping it will help him perform well enough to take the next step in his career without looking beyondthe 2010 TCL season.
"My goal is to sign with a college and get that over with," he said. "Also, to come out and have a good summer and enjoy it, but at the same time be effective for the team."
Payne added that there are a few colleges that are interested in signing him, but he wanted to keep his options open for as long as possible.
And his numbers last season in Victoria showed he was no slouch. Of the Generals' 30 regular season wins, Payne had six of them. His earned-run average was well below 3 for the season.
He said his team played a big role in his success last season.
"I had a lot of run support and they played good defense behind me," he said. "I pretty much went in just pitching to contact and it worked out all season."
Payne said he had been looking at playing in the TCL before the start of last season, and playing in Victoria was a major factor.
"I wanted to play summer ball, but I also wanted to be close to home," he said. "When I saw that Victoria was getting a Texas Collegiate League team, I hopped all over that and decided to call down here and try to get a spot on the team.
"It was good coming back in front of my home town at Riverside Stadium I grew up playing at. Playing in front of all my friends and family, it was really neat."
Payne approached the team about playing, and made the roster. It was a decision members of the Generals' front office, including general manager Blake Koch, did not regret.
"His name was brought to us early on," Koch said. "He had a first shot-first look from us, and it was a no-brainer on our end that we wanted him."
Generals coach Chris Clemons said the decision was with Payne on whether to return, and that he would be welcomed back not only because of his performance, but the intangibles he brought as well.
"In terms of not only what he did on the mound but what he did for this group, being a local guy, having family, having friends, being a great competitor, being a leader in this club house," Clemons said. "It was just the fact that, if he wanted to come back or go play somewhere else."
Koch said Payne was one of the best pitchers in the TCL last season, and said Payne was robbed of the league's pitcher of the year award. After last season, Koch said Payne was one of the top players the team wanted to bring back.
"He was a guy that me and Coach Clemons, we sat down and determined who do we want to bring back," he said. "And Blake was at the top of that list. He's a local player, he's the type of kid that could have a future in professional baseball if he keeps putting up the numbers he does.
"Even from a character stand point, Blake's a great kid. Everybody in Victoria here loves him. He was on the top of our grocery list for players that we wanted to have come back."