In high school, Hitting Skilz’ Jay Payton earned a full scholarship to Georgia Tech with his work on the baseball diamond. With the Ramblin’ Wreck in 1994, he led the nation with 102 RBIs, hit .432 to lead the Atlantic Coast Conference and was a first-round pick of the New York Mets. He twice won minor league batting titles en route to the start of a 10-year career in Major League Baseball.
At every level of the game, Jay Payton has performed with success. The skills that made him a consensus first team All-American at Georgia Tech, the starting center fielder as a rookie in the 2000 World Series, and a veteran of six Major League teams are the skills he teaches at HittingSkilz.
“I enjoy teaching the basic fundamentals of the swing, as well as discussing the mental aspects that go along with being a good hitter,” Payton said. “All great hitters put themselves in a similar position once making contact with the ball, even though there are several ways to get you there. My goal is to find what works best for each individual hitter and maximize their potential.”
Payton was born and raised in Zanesville, Ohio, where he was a star in soccer, basketball and baseball as a student athlete at Zanesville High School. The right-handed outfielder was named a first team All-Ohioan as a senior with a .560 batting average and 10 home runs. He led his American Amateur Baseball Conference team to the 1991 Connie Mack World Series title and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
While at Georgia Tech, where he was named to the freshman academic All-American team, Payton played summer ball in the Cape Cod League and helped lead his team to a league championship in 1993. Back at school the next year, he teamed with future Major League All-Stars Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek to lead the Yellow Jackets to the final game of the 1994 College World Series. He was a Golden Spikes Award (Most Outstanding Player) finalist that season, the prelude to his career as a professional.
“There is no magic formula to becoming a good ball player. The only thing that will make you better is practice and hard work,” Payton said. “I had the good fortune of being surrounded by great players and people while at Georgia Tech. Seeing the dedication and effort they put into every practice and game is what helped shape me as a player. It is my goal to instill these practices in each of my students.”
After the Mets selected him with the 29th overall pick in the 1994 draft, Payton went on to win MVP honors in the New York-Penn League and the Eastern League in his first two seasons as a professional. During his second season in the minors, an injury to Payton’s right elbow led to the reconstructive elbow surgery known as Tommy John surgery at the end of the season. A second Tommy John surgery followed, along with three minor surgeries during the course of the next three seasons. In all, Payton has rehabbed from six different surgeries during his career. Due to his dedication and work habits, he was able to rebound from each. In 2002 and 2003, Muscle and Fitness magazine named Payton one of the fittest players in the game. The experience in recovering from surgery has prepared him to coach athletes who are returning from injury, and his passion for fitness helps him teach all athletes about prevention and staying healthy.
“I obviously would have enjoyed an injury-free career, but having gone through so many obstacles has given me the knowledge to help keep others from going through the same thing, as well as help those who have been previously injured come back stronger,” Payton said. “There are certain things serious athletes need to do in their training to help prevent injury. The sooner you learn how to prevent injury, the better chance you’ll have of an injury-free career.”
After playing in a handful of games for the Mets in 1998 and 1999, Payton hit .291 with 17 home runs, 23 doubles and 62 RBIs in 2000 during his first full year in the Majors. He finished third in voting for the NL Rookie of the Year, behind Atlanta’s Rafael Furcal and St. Louis’ Rick Ankiel. In October, he hit .333 for the Mets in the World Series against the Yankees, and his three-run homer in the ninth inning of Game Two remains the only home run surrendered by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in a World Series game.
“Playing in the World Series was one of the highlights of my career. It’s what every kid grows up dreaming about,” Payton said. “Homering off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning to put us within a run is the most memorable at bat of my career. We unfortunately came up a run short and lost the series in four games, but that at bat is what we live for. It is a memory I will never forget.”
After two more seasons in New York, Payton played outfield for two seasons in Colorado. In 2003 with the Rockies, Payton had career highs with 28 HRs, 32 doubles, 181 hits and a .302 average in 157 games. Single seasons in San Diego and Boston were followed by two years each with the Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles. Payton and the Athletics once again made it to the post season in 2006, sweeping the Twins in the first round before losing to the Tigers in the AL Championship Series. In 10 Major League seasons, Payton has a career .280 batting average, with 119 homers and 522 RBIs.
After his tenth Major League season, Payton made Edmond his home and hopes to bring his knowledge of the game to the area’s youth. During his year away from the game in 2009, due to shoulder surgery, he received his certification as a personal trainer from the IFTA. He returned to baseball in 2010, signing a minor league deal with the Rockies before Spring Training.
“I decided to get back into the game one more time: I didn’t want an injury to be the reason I left. So I once again dedicated myself to training and my craft and won an invitation to Spring Training with the Rockies,” Payton said. “I’m not sure whether I will make it back to the Major Leagues, but there’s no doubt the game of baseball has been great to me, my family and my friends. If you are serious about taking your game to the next level, it would be my pleasure to help get you there.”
Jay was called back up on September 7th, 2010 to help the Rockies pursue their race to the playoffs. He finished the season hitting .343 as the Rockies fell short of a playoff bid.
Jay had surgery on February 26th, 2011 and has officially announced his retirement from Professional Baseball.
In late 2011 Jay started Hitting Skilz to help teach other players how to take their game to the next level.