By Jeff Linville firstname.lastname@example.org
June 17, 2014
PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry second baseman Weston Payne has chosen Rockingham Community College to continue his baseball career.
The senior is the second local player to sign with RCC, following Surry Central shortstop Forest Kimbrell.
“I have known Forest for a long time; we’re pretty good friends,” said Weston. “It’s always good to go to college and know who you’re going to be rolling it up the middle with.”
He said he and Forest will share a small apartment off-campus.
With Weston at second and Forest at short, RCC athletic director Chris Johnson said, “Now all you need is a catcher and a couple of arms, and you’re set up the middle.”
“Weston is one of the better second basemen we’ve had,” said East head coach Barry Hall. Defensively, Hall said he would take Weston over any second baseman in the area. “He has a little better arm than people think he does.”
Weston struggled at the plate his junior year, but he really stepped it up this season, said assistant coach Chad Freeman.
He improved his hitting each year because he worked hard on it, said Hall. And that allowed Weston to become a big reason for the team’s great success this year.
Not only did Weston work hard during the spring season each year, but the young man played travel ball and also took private hitting lessons last year.
“I want to thank Justin Smith. He was my coach at The Hitting Zone last year,” said Weston.
Weston batted .350 this season and led the team in sacrifice bunts with about 15, he said.
“Batting in the 2-hole, I know what my role is,” he said. “My role is to move Logan (Sheets) over and let the 3, 4, 5 guys drive him in. I’ve got to do my job, so the 3, 4, 5 guys can do what they do.”
“If Logan didn’t get on, I felt pretty good with Weston coming up,” said Hall. “He’s reaped the benefits of hard work. He’s made himself into a very good high school player.” Weston is an example that coaches can hold up to the younger players and say that this is what they can make of themselves if they put in the hours, he said.
“He is just a total team player,” said Freeman. He took as much pride in moving a runner over with a bunt or a grounder to the right side as he did driving in the runner in himself.
“That’s a team player right there,” agreed Hall. “He gives himself up for the team. That’s how you win 31 in a row — when everyone accepts their role.”
“We started like most kids with T-ball, and he’s stuck with it,” said father T.J. Payne. T.J. coached his son in Little League and travel ball for several years.
“Every year I’d say, ‘Are you sure you want me to coach your team?’ because I’m a little bit tougher on him than I am everybody else” T.J. admitted.
“When he got to East Surry and Coach Hall, I told Weston, ‘He’s old school. He’s been here a long time, but you should be prepared. I rode you pretty good.’”
Mom Sharon Payne gave thanks to Coach Hall for giving Weston a shot.
“He’s a small player and not a home run hitter, but (Hall) believed in him and brought him up as a sophomore.”
Sharon said she and T.J. let Weston try several different sports in grade school.
“He tried soccer, he played football for one year — thank goodness he decided not to do that. He played basketball. He swam one year. We let him try it all, then about the time he got to middle school, he decided that baseball was his love.”
While he didn’t play other sports at East Surry, Sharon noted, “He’s a member of our church, First United Methodist. He’s active with our youth group, with Young Life. He was an Eagle Scout.”
These same boys who won 31 straight games as seniors also won the middle school conference four years ago, Sharon pointed out. All except for Zach French, who chose to play at West Forsyth for the experience of being in a bigger school district. Zach helped West Forsyth win the 4A title the same day East was playing for the 1A state title.
Between travel teams and playing with East Surry’s summer team, the Payne family has spent its summers at the baseball diamond.
“He’s played a lot of baseball,” said T.J. “He loves it, and it’s been fun traveling around and watching him play. This past season was unbelievable.”
T.J. and Sharon spend time around the same group of parents each game.
“We’re like family,” said T.J. “We’ve been together for Little League All-Stars. A lot of those kids played travel baseball together. The parents may be closer than the boys are. We’ve never had any drama, issues. Everybody got along great, like a big family getting together every Tuesday and Friday and having fun.”
“He’s had a really fun year,” Sharon said of her only child. “You know, there are great coaches here. They’re wonderful.”
In travel ball, Weston spent some time at shortstop and the outfield, but he loves second base, Sharon said. “That’s what his dad played, too, growing up.”
“I’ve played second all my life,” said Weston. “It feels comfortable to me. I feel like it’s a home out there.”
Which is more rewarding, getting a base hit or turning a double play?
“I’d say turning a double play. I’m more of a defensive guy myself.”
Surry and Catawba Valley community colleges also were interested in him. The coaches were great, he said, “but there was just something about Rockingham that just pulled me in. The coach told me what he liked out of me, and it really clicked.”
Rockingham’s Johnson said, “You almost recruit the transcript of where they are coming out of.” East Surry and Surry Central are used to winning, and they have good structures around them with coaches and parents.
With players from a program like East Surry, “they are low risk/high reward guys. They are going to be here for two years, and we are going to be able to build with them and keep moving forward.
“I’m not going to have to baby Weston. Now we’ll have to stay on him as a college athlete, but we’re not going to have to parent him.”
There is a learning curve for college, and Weston and Forest will see that right away with fall ball.
“Junior college is the bus leagues,” said Johnson. There are no frat parties or big Carolina/Duke games that draw tens of thousands of fans.
“They only reason you’re going to junior college is because you love baseball, you have a passion to play. You want to get the at-bats, the reps, add some strength and develop a little bit more of your skill set so you can move on to a four-year. Worst-case scenario, you can still move on to a four-year university as a student and get your education.”
“I want to major in communications and be a sports broadcaster,” said Weston. “After I get my core classes out of the way at Rockingham, when I transfer to a four-year, I want to go somewhere that has a communications major.”
As for the diamond, Johnson said, “Kids make more of a jump offensively because they get stronger — stronger in the wrists and the forearms. They’ll be able to make adjustments at the plate that, really, their bodies weren’t allowing them to do.”
A few years ago, Johnson recruited Central’s Marshall Creed, a slender 145-pounder who missed time his senior year with a broken hand.
“When Marshall left us, he was 25 pounds heavier. He was stronger, more mature,” said Johnson. Now he’s a student at UNC Charlotte looking to get a bachelor’s degree.
Johnson said he once coached with Jamie Lowe, the head coach of SCC’s baseball team, so they have a friendly rivalry ongoing.
“I love coming up here and stealing Surry County players,” he said with a laugh. This makes three in four years.
Rockingham has earned 84 wins over the past four years, including back-to-back tournament appearances, which had never been done at RCC before.
“You have to have good kids, with the character and good work ethic,” he said. Then of Weston and Forest, he added, “We think we got two good ones.”