Georgia Tech Baseball has traditionally been one the most successful programs in Georgia Tech sports. The team has made thirty NCAA Tournament appearances, has reached the College World Series three times, and has won nine conference tournament titles.
Today, I catch up with a former ACC Champ (’05) and two-time All-ACC first team selection—Atlanta’s own Danny Payne. Danny was raised in Woodstock, GA and played baseball at Georgia Tech before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2007. While at Tech, Payne played center field and hit leadoff since the day he stepped on campus. Danny was a threat both offensively and defensively. In his career on The Flats, he had a 97.4% fielding percentage, highlighted by an errorless 2006 campaign. He was a career .332 hitter with 201 runs and 120 RBIs while swiping 64 bases. Most impressively, he amassed these stats in only three seasons.
Danny definitely left his mark on the Tech baseball program, and his insightful responses below will show that his alma mater left a similar impact on his life. The Sporting ATL staff is very grateful that Danny allowed us to speak with him on his playing experience and current endeavors.
RamblinBrave: How did growing up in Atlanta impact your sports career?
Danny: I think growing up in Atlanta impacted my sports career in two major ways. The first impact was by the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had just completed their “worst to first” season as I picked up my first baseball glove. Their popularity really fueled youth baseball across the state while every kid did their best David Justice or Tom Glavine impression. As the Braves continued to win division title after division title, kids all across the state were hoping that their youth jersey would don the Braves logo.
The second major influence on my career was my love for football. When the leaves started to change, I swapped out my baseball helmet for one with a face mask. I believe the two and three sport athlete is slowly starting to disappear as every sport has begun to specialize and require a year-round commitment. I started playing football in 3rdgrade and continued playing through my senior year of high school, culminating in scholarship offers from The University of Tennessee, The University of Florida, and Louisville. Playing football allowed me to develop different facets of my athleticism as well as levels of discipline that you can’t find in other sports. By my senior year of football, I had already experienced a torn ACL and meniscus, an experience that taught me how to handle adversity and the work ethic needed to come back from a major injury (a lesson that served me well after an injury I suffered my sophomore season at Georgia Tech).
RB: What led you to choose Georgia Tech? Was your experience on the Flats everything you expected?
Danny: I was very blessed to have had a great youth and amateur career that led to numerous scholarship offers from great college programs scattered across the South. Three major factors went into my college commitment: proximity to home, education, and program dominance. As my recruitment came to an end, I realized that many people in my life had made sacrifices that allowed me to pursue my dreams of playing major college baseball and hopefully Major League Baseball someday. I decided to stay close to home so that those who had made such sacrifices could come and see me play, and picking a school like LSU or Arizona State would have been a selfish choice. After deciding to stay within driving distance of home, I knew Georgia Tech had the best combination of academics and program notoriety in the South. Couple those accolades with the fact that Georgia Tech had given me a full scholarship and had signed 12 total players from my amateur travel team, it was a no brainer!
RB: You were a part of some very successful teams during your time with the Jackets, winning the ACC Championship in 2005 and earning a trip to Omaha in 2006. Personally, you were twice a first-team All-ACC selection. How did you make it look so easy?
Danny: I think one of Tech’s greatest strengths is their ability to recruit great players up and down the roster. Every year, kids choose Georgia Tech over other major universities knowing that they have to earn a starting role, a role that may take years to earn. Bringing these great players on campus with that type of mentality really helps create competition and elevates everyone’s game. Having the opportunity to play three years with elite players from across the country really helped me elevate my game to levels I couldn’t have otherwise reached.
RB: How would your ACC Championship team match up against this year’s Jackets team?
Danny: That’s hard to say. I think the changes in the bats have really altered the collegiate game and skewed the numbers. Today, hitting .300 in college assures you a place on the MLB radar. Hitting .300 on our 2005 team was a requirement just to crack the starting lineup. I think when you consider that every Jacket from our starting lineup and our weekend rotation in 2005 ended up being drafted, it gives our team the edge against more recent GT teams.
RB: Why do you think Danny Hall has been so successful in his years at Tech?
Danny: Coach Hall first and foremost spearheads great recruiting classes year-in and year-out. Like I stated in a previous response, his ability to create competition across all positions really helps elevate individual players and collectively the team. I think the other major approach Coach Hall takes is he allows guys to be athletic and doesn’t cookie cut his hitters or pitchers. By cookie cut. I mean make hitters and pitchers imitate a specific delivery or stance.
RB: What was your favorite memory while playing at Georgia Tech?
Danny: I think it would have to be before my first game as a freshman walking into the locker room and seeing my jersey hanging up for the first time. At that moment, it really hit me that all my hard work had started to pay off as I examined the “Jackets” across the chest and the number 20 across the back, a number I had once worn as a 12 year old.
RB: What was it like to fulfill a life long dream by being drafted by the San Diego Padres?
Danny: It was a surreal moment that I don’t think I fully took the time to really enjoy. I think I kind of viewed the moment as a formality to reaching my goal of playing in the Major Leagues. Looking back, I wish I had really taken the opportunity to soak up the moment as I fell short of accomplishing my end goal of playing in the Major Leagues. It’s an honor to have your name called on draft day whether you’re the first pick or the last pick. At that moment, you join an elite group of athletes who played baseball at one of its highest levels.
RB: Can you tell us an interesting story about life in Minor League Baseball?
Danny: I think all of Minor League baseball is one giant interesting story, whether you’re sharing a two bedroom apartment with 6 guys and 4 blow up mattresses living off stadium hot dogs and pizza or on a 12-hour bus trip on from Bull Durham with no air conditioning and seats that don’t recline. Some will say it’s the price you have to pay for having the opportunity of one day being a big leaguer.
One story that sticks out in my mind though is an event that took place in a small town in Iowa that was known for its sewage facility and dog food factory strategically placed within miles of one another, emitting one amazing aroma. We had pulled into a Motel 6 around 7AM after driving all night from another city. Our team had assembled in the lobby waiting for our room assignments. Gradually groups of guys grabbed their keys and “zombied” their way to their rooms in hopes to catch a quick 3-hour nap before having to make our way to the field for a noon game. My roommate and I had just started to shut the door when a cop stuck his foot in and proceeded to grab our bags and hurry us out of our room. Once in the hallway, I noticed four or five other rooms getting the same treatment. Once again, our entire team was assembled in the small lobby being monitored by a handful of police officers. It wasn’t until later that night after our game when we saw the local news where a sting operation at the Motel 6 had ended in the arrest of a seven-member drug smuggling ring.
RB: What exactly is Danny Payne up to nowadays?
Danny: I retired from baseball in the Spring of 2012 and re-enrolled at Georgia Tech that fall. I finished up my business degree by the summer of 2013 and graduated that August. Three days laterm I opened up The Georgia Baseball Academy with my business partner and former Georgia Bulldog Adam McDaniel along former Bulldogs Jonathan Wyatt and Will Harvil. We opened GBA with the purpose of using baseball to positively impact the lives of children, whether it’s the smile they get from hitting their first home run or excitement from getting their first scholarship offer.
RB: How did Georgia Tech, both on and off the field, prepare you for your current endeavors?
Danny: I always tell people I chose a school that was going to make me work for four years so I could party the rest of my life instead of party for 4 years and work the rest of my life. Georgia Tech has provided me an education and a baseball experience that has allowed me to continue to stay in baseball and leverage my experiences and knowledge into a business. People always say that if you get to do what you love then you will never work a day in your life and GT has done just that for me!
RB: Can you tell us something about yourself that Jackets fans may not know?
Danny: I originally had verbally committed to the Clemson Tigers. I decided to withhold my commitment until I took an official visit. Needless to say, my official visit didn’t go as well as I had hoped.
RB: You’re the COO of the Georgia Baseball Academy. Can you tell us about any upcoming events?
Danny: We have recently partnered with C.H.A.M.P.S Athletic Marketing and Placement Services, a firm that specializes in the recruitment and marketing of high school athletes whose primary goal is to help the athlete get noticed and ultimately land a college scholarship. We also have a program that is in its early phases that will ultimately help us reach more kids across the state and the country that may not have the access to a baseball performance facility such as ours. Both programs will allow us to continue to positively impact the lives of athletes through baseball in hopes that the game will give them the same opportunities and open the same doors that it has for me.
RB: Again, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. It’s good to hear that you’ve been as successful away from Tech as you were while you were in school!