Jay Payton isn't from Oklahoma, but the former major league outfielder has made it his adopted home.
After a great career at Georgia Tech and 12 years in the big leagues, Payton now lives in Edmond, moving there to be closer to his 8-year-old son.
And because of the geographic proximity and his baseball acumen, Payton signed on to be an analyst for Big 12 college baseball broadcasts this season, including a majority of the OU games.
During this weekend's conference tournament, Payton sat down to talk about what he thinks of the Sooners, how he enjoys life in Oklahoma, one of his worst baseball memories and more:
Did you know this area at all before you lived here?
Not really, I didn't know much about it. But I like it a lot. It's probably some of the friendliest, nicest people you'll meet. Good schools, safe and a good place to live, grow up and raise a little one.
But Oklahoma hasn't always been good to you. Take me back to the 1994 CWS title game, when you played for Georgia Tech. You guys were stacked, with three future pros (Payton, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek) in your starting lineup. But OU got you guys in the title game. How did that happen?
Yeah, we had a great team obviously. You had Nomar leading off, Varitek hitting third and then I was in the four-hole, we averaged almost 10 runs a game. For us, coming up short, we just ran low on pitching. We had Brad Rigby, who I think was the first pick in the second round, and a couple other guys, but by the time we got to that championship against OU, we just kind of ran out of pitching and they put it on us pretty good.
Is that kind of a big ‘What if …' in your career, that despite that loaded team, you never got a CWS ring?
Not really. I mean, twenty-something years ago it was probably a lot more dear to me, but fact of the matter is, we lost 13-5 in the championship game. Had we lost 2-1, maybe it's one of those things where you sit there and scratch your head about forever, but they whooped us pretty good in the championship game.
A couple of the guys on that OU team are now coaching in Norman. Do they ever give you grief about it?
No, they don't razz me too much. My first few days being around OU, I probably heard it about five or six times, but since then (my broadcast partner) Chad (McKee) will poke me a little bit about it on air, but it's fun, it's all good. Like I said, they had a really good team and it's not always the best team that wins it, it's the hottest and they were the hottest.
You've covered a lot of OU this season. What do you think of the team?
Yeah, they've got a good ballclub. Preseason, they were a top-25, maybe even top-15 team. At the end of the day, they kind of struggled once Dillon (Overton) got hurt, kind of took a little bit of a slide. And also offensively, they haven't produced the way they are capable of producing. (Matt) Oberste, it's been more than a month since he's hit a home run, but he's a big guy who will get hot at some point. And they have bats in the middle of their lineup that are starting to hit a little bit. If they can keep that going, it's about getting hot and if they can get hot, with their one-two punch of Gray and Overton, they can do some damage.
With what they've done this weekend, they're likely locked into an NCAA berth. Could they be a dangerous lower seed?
Without a doubt. You look at their pitching. They have that one-two punch, but they also have quality arms through the rest of that bullpen. If they can do what they've done this weekend, which is put up some runs, even score four or five runs, they've got a good chance to win any game.
Looking up the road, it's been a good season for Oklahoma State. What have you seen from them?
They're a scrappy bunch. I haven't watched a ton of games, but from what I've seen, they're a scrappy bunch, they're excited, they get after it and they have a good pitching staff and good guys at the end. The thing that might haunt them is they didn't play a super strong schedule early in the season, they played some lesser teams, had a lot of home games. When you get into the postseason and start traveling and playing some better teams, it's tough. But they have the capability and they play smart baseball.
There's a lot of talk on the Big 12 being a bit down in recent years. May only get three teams in the tournament. You agree with that sentiment?
I don't know so much that it's down, but just that the ACC and SEC have been so dominant for so long and the Pac-12 is always solid, so the Big 12 is looked at as that three-four with the Pac-12. But the two top leagues are so dominant. The Big 12 may be down a little bit offensively, but pitching, there's still a ton of great arms. You look up and down the lineup, you may be missing a bunch of big bats. When they get into the postseason and play some of these teams with great lineups, the pitching is really going to have to rise to the occasion.