Jay Payton was selected by the Mets in the first round (29th pick) of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft and was projected to be a superstar. He earned both All-American and Academic All-American honors at Georgia Tech after leading the nation with 102 RBIs during his junior season in '94 while batting .467 with 20 home runs in 67 games. Payton, along with future big-leaguers Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek, led the Yellow Jackets to the College World Series where they were defeated in the title game by Oklahoma.
Injuries, however, prevented Payton from playing a full Major League season until 2000, when he helped the Mets to their first World Series in 14 years. Payton signed a two-year deal with the Orioles -- his sixth team -- this past offseason, and recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com:
MLBPLAYERS.com: During a recent slump, you weren't happy with your approach at the plate. How much does it have to do with the ebb and flow of a season and fatigue during the dog days of summer?
Payton: It's part of the game and part of the season. It makes it a little tougher when you're going out there for teams that are few games out (and in a division race). We're just battling to try to get back to .500, so it wears on you a little bit.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What do you remember about your 1,000th career hit on June 14 and how special was that accomplishment?
Payton: Getting 1,000 hits means you've been around for a little bit and it means you're getting old -- or you're young and really good. I'm not young, so it means I've been around for little while and getting old (laughs).
MLBPLAYERS.com: You've started for four playoff teams and played in a World Series with the Mets (2000). What went into your decision to come to Baltimore? How did you expect to contribute and what's your evaluation to this point?
Payton: I wanted to come here to try and turn the franchise around and get it back on the right track. For me it was close to my family and a good opportunity to play on a consistent basis. It's been great. Obviously we're not exactly where we want to be, but the team is definitely getting better.
MLBPLAYERS.com: There seems to be an air of optimism here despite possibly a 10th straight season under .500. What is it about this team that helps it through the tough times?
Payton: You have a good bunch of guys and a good nucleus here. Everyone gets along real well together, and everybody knows their roles and what's expected of them.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What's been the biggest difference since Dave Trembley took over?
Payton: There's a little more structure. He's a big stickler for doing things on time and for everybody doing them. From that standpoint, I think that's made a little bit of a difference.
MLBPLAYERS.com: After you were drafted by the Mets in 1994, injuries prevented you from getting your feet firmly on the ground. Was it playing for and contributing to a National League pennant winner in 2000 that made you believe you've arrived?
Payton: Yes. I've battled through a lot of things, mainly my elbow. I've had Tommy John surgery twice. Being able to overcome those things -- especially considering I didn't know if I was going to play again after the second one -- then still have the opportunity to play in the big leagues and go to the World Series that year was a great experience.
MLBPLAYERS.com: You had your best season in Colorado in 2003.
Payton: So far, that's been my standout year. It was fun. I had some big guys in lineup with me: Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Preston Wilson, all guys who were swinging the bat great. That, in turn, helped me put up the numbers I was able to put up.
MLBPLAYERS.com: How tough were the next couple of seasons in San Diego and Boston before you helped Oakland make the playoffs in 2006?
Payton: San Diego wasn't a great year, but it wasn't a terrible year. I would like to have stayed there, but I got traded to Boston where I knew I wasn't going to play; it was tough dealing with the few months there. But things happen for a reason and it worked out when I got to Oakland and had a chance to get back to the playoffs with the A's.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What does it take as a player and as a collective unit to get to the playoffs and beyond?
Payton: Everybody has to be on the same page and guys have to perform up to expectations, or a little bit of both. With the Mets, we didn't have the greatest talent, but everybody played well and we played well as a unit. It was the same thing with Oakland. We knew how to win. You have to bring your "A" game all the time.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What do you think of your pitching staff? Erik Bedard, Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Chris Ray appear to have created a foundation here for years to come.
Payton: I think it stacks up pretty well. If you look at the pitching the rest of this season and going into next season, we should have one of the better staffs in all of baseball from the starting rotation to the bullpen. It'd be nice to get a power arm and we definitely need to add a big bat. That's what you need to get in the thick of things.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.