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FOR JOHN RAYNOR, BASEBALL A FAMILY AFFAIR WITH DEEP ROOTS


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Bill on Baseball

FOR JOHN RAYNOR, BASEBALL A FAMILY AFFAIR WITH DEEP ROOTS

July 5, 2007

 

John RaynorJohn Raynor arrives at first base by either a single or a walk, then takes a substantial lead.

 

He studies the pitcher, looking for a tell-tale sign of whether the ball is going to first base or to home plate. The pitcher, growing nervous, might fire the ball to first, forcing Raynor to dive back to the bag.

 

Raynor dusts himself off, takes another daring lead and then, having seen what he was looking for, explodes toward second base, beating the throw with a head-first slide. A moment later, he crosses home plate, having been driven in by a base hit from Chris Hatcher or Chris Coghlan or Logan Morrison or Spike McDougall, and the Greensboro Grasshoppers have their first run of the night.

 

Some might say this consistent scenario shows Raynor doing what he was born to do. Given the depth of his baseball roots, they?re probably right.

 

 

♦♦♦

 

 

No matter how badly things might go for John Raynor on the baseball field, he doesn?t have far to turn for support.

 

When he?s in First Horizon Park, home of the Hoppers, his pass list can number anywhere from half a dozen to nearly 20. His parents, Max and Teresa Raynor, and grandparents, Roy and Clara Raynor, and maternal grandmother, Iva Lee Gainey, are always there in some combination. At any time they?re likely to be joined by one or both of John?s sisters, his little brother and friends and family from Benson, N.C., approximately 90 miles away.

 

It has always been that way for Raynor, through his youth baseball days, playing at South Johnston High School and in college at UNC Wilmington and now as a professional. He never takes it for granted.

 

?Every once in awhile you think about it and want to do something for them because they?re here,? Raynor said. ?It would be tougher if they were far away and would come in for a week, then not see me for a month. I?d want to put on a show for them. They see the everyday struggles ? sometimes you?re 0-for-4 and sometimes you?re 4-for-4. They know how it is.?

 

In the rare cases when no one is at a game, usually when the Hoppers are on the road, Raynor will call his father, who coached him until he reached high school.

 

?He knows the game,? Raynor said, ?and he has always been a big part of my baseball game. Whenever I need to go to somebody to hear something positive, I call him up.?

 

Max Raynor said his role has shifted.

 

?He might ask me for advice to make me feel good,? Max said, ?but he?s way past my level now. I?m more of a cheerleader.?

 

As often as Max is able to see his son play, his grandfather sees him even more. That?s only natural, since the family baseball roots started with Roy Raynor.

 

?That?s where playing ball in the family started, with my granddad,? John Raynor said with more than a touch of pride.

 

♦♦♦

 

?I guess it did start with me,? Roy Raynor said. ?Baseball is THE game.?

 

He played in an era that he calls, with a laugh, ?The Dark Ages.? Cars and televisions were relatively scarce and the other diversions of today were not yet invented, so a young man living in rural Johnston County found other ways to amuse himself. In his case it was baseball.

 

?I like competition,? Roy said. ?To me, the challenge of taking a round bat and hitting a round ball traveling between 90 and 95 miles an hour is the hardest thing in any sport.?

 

In the 1950s, players who didn?t sign professional contracts played semi-pro baseball, and North Carolina was chock-full of such teams. Owners arranged games with other teams and they were played in places with a baseball diamond and some bleacher seats, which were sometimes filled by 1,000 or more spectators. Expenses were met by charging a couple dollars for tickets and selling concessions. Players were paid by the game.

 

When he was 16, Roy was the shortstop on a team with Gaylord Perry, the future Hall of Fame pitcher from Williamston. He played the longest for a team called the Carolina All-Stars, traveling as far away as Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

 

?We?d take on anybody,? Roy said. ?We had hitters who were Double-A or Triple-A level but the pitching wasn?t as good.?

 

Roy considered himself an infielder, mostly third and first, but he also played center field and catcher. He had speed, a good arm and, in his words, ?I was known to hit a home run or two.? He was such a good hitter that, after he retired in his 30s, he got an offer of an extra $100 a game to keep playing. The money was too good to turn down, so he accepted and played until he was 44.

 

?We had some good times,? he said.

 

Roy Raynor?s two sons both played baseball ? Eric at Campbell, Max at Louisburg and East Carolina. One daughter, Dee, played softball at Mount Olive. The other daughter, April, played softball through high school. While they showed aptitude at other sports ? April was an especially adept guard in basketball ? their love for baseball/softball never wavered.

 

 

♦♦♦

 

 

Max Raynor?s family never thinks twice about jumping in a car and traveling to watch a sports contest. They watch John as much as possible in Greensboro and sometimes ride to Kannapolis and Asheville.

 

Then there are the volleyball, basketball, softball and horse-riding events involving their 16-year-old daughter, Mary Beth. And the AAU baseball games played by son Will, 12. Not to mention the track and field events in which 22-year-old daughter Anna competes in places like Indianapolis and Sacramento.

 

?Every night we basically have somewhere to go,? said John?s mother, Teresa Raynor, herself a former volleyball, basketball and softball player.

 

Anna, with no prior experience, started throwing the javelin while she was at UNC Wilmington. She got so good that she finished fourth in the NCAA Championships as a junior and again as a senior. After graduation this spring, she turned pro and finished third in the U.S. Track and Field national championships. That opened up a number of future possibilities, including international competition in El Salvador, the Pan Am Games in Brazil and, if things go well enough, the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

 

?She?s the real athlete in the family,? John said.

 

 

The RaynorsNaturally, schedules sometimes overlap and everyone can?t always be at each event. So things get carved up ? Max here, Teresa and Iva Lee there, Roy and Clara somewhere else ? and cell phones crackle with updates from every site. No one minds the hectic pace.

 

?Like most people, our children are our joy,? Max said.

 

♦♦♦

 

Baseball often works in strange ways.

 

John Raynor went to UNC Wilmington as a leadoff hitter and didn?t hit a home run in his first two seasons. Then he matured physically and hit five homers as a junior and 12 as a senior, dropping to the third and fourth spots in the batting order.

 

Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the ninth round last summer, Raynor?s four home runs led the team at Jamestown in the New York-Penn League. But all along, the Marlins saw him as a leadoff man, so he has come full cycle.

 

?I?ve always been kind of confused as to what they wanted out of me,? Raynor said, ?but I?ve pretty much figured out that my role is going to be as a leadoff guy. I don?t see myself batting anywhere else in the organization.?

 

The Marlins like Raynor?s speed and the way he uses it. When he reaches first base, he usually has free rein to steal second. He studies pitchers and their moves and when he decides to go, his first-step explosion is so good that he is successful 90 percent of the time ? 21 for 23 at Jamestown, 36 for 40 so far in Greensboro. That makes it 57 steals in 63 attempts for his pro career.

 

?You?ve got to have guts, you?ve got to want to do it,? said Hoppers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. ?There?s a lot of guys with speed who don?t run because they?re afraid of being thrown out. John?s not shy about anything. He?s very sure of himself on the bases.?

 

Stealing successfully is the second step in a three-part equation. The first is reaching base. Raynor has done that (through games of July 4) with 99 hits and 42 walks. His OBP, the shorthand for on-base percentage, is a robust .428.

 

?You?re looking for a high OBP guy with speed so he can get on first and steal second,? said Marlins hitting coordinator John Mallee. ?Last year he walked very few times (17 in 199 at-bats). This year he?s learned to work the count and his OBP is over .400, which is outstanding.

 

?I like his potential as a leadoff man. He?s a tough kid, he?s not afraid of the ball, he?s taking his walks. As he learns to get deeper in the count and put the two-strike balls into play, his batting average will stay over .300.?

 

The third part of the equation is scoring runs. That depends, in part, on the hitters behind Raynor, and folks like Coghlan, Morrison and McDougall have done their part. But Raynor must put himself in scoring position. If he hasn?t opened the game with a double or triple, he likely has gotten on by a single or walk and then stolen second. He has scored 79 runs, leading the South Atlantic League by a dozen. Barring injury ? or promotion ? he has a chance at the league record of 128 runs, set in 1983 by Jose Leiva of Spartanburg.

 

?Being the first hitter, I feel like I can set the tone of the game,? Raynor said. ?A lot of times if I do what I?m supposed to do on my first at-bat, anything positive, it seems like carries over to the other players in the lineup.

 

?I owe all these runs scored to the guys behind me. I?ve scored a whole lot from first with these guys getting extra-base hits.?

 

♦♦♦

 

A natural center fielder, Raynor is playing left field this season. It?s a harder adjustment than people realize because the hops tend to be true when the ball is hit to center while corner outfielders have to read the ball off the bat and can?t instantly tell how much it?s going to hook.

 

?A lot of times in left field, you can see a lefty take an off-balance swing and it?s hard to read the ball off the bat,? Raynor said. ?You don?t know if the ball is going to hook in there or roll into the corner, so you have to lay back and watch what it does, then go for it.?

 

Raynor has tripped over the bullpen down the left field line in First Horizon more than a few times. Overall, he has adjusted nicely because he has always worked hard on defense. Max used to tell him something that Roy passed along: ?Offense gets your name in the paper, defense gets your name on the lineup card.?

 

If there?s a flaw in Raynor?s game, it?s his strikeout total ? 72 times this season, third highest on the team. Even Roy said he fusses at John ?to cut down those strikeouts.?

 

Because Max was an excellent two-strike hitter, John believes he should be better at that task. But he knows he?s improving.

 

?I?ve definitely improved on my strike zone discipline,? Raynor said. ?I?ve gotten a lot deeper in counts and that has translated into more walks and my strikeouts have stayed about the same. The more I stay in deep counts, the more it?s going to happen, a strikeout or a walk. But I have to get better at getting deep in the count and fouling off pitches that may be close enough to be called strikes.?

 

The Marlins more concerned about Raynor?s other stats, which are impressive. Besides leading the league in runs, he?s tied for first with 36 stolen bases, is second with six triples, third with a .428 OBP, tied for third with 99 hits, tied for sixth with 151 total bases, tied for eighth with 42 walks and tied for ninth with 22 doubles.

 

?What he?ll learn as a hitter over his career,? Mallee said, ?is his strikeouts will go down because he?ll be able to put more pitches in play with two strikes than he does now.?

 

♦♦♦

 

Most players say they don?t have a timetable to reach the major leagues. Raynor, 23, will tell you he?d like to be there in two years. He understands it may take longer, or it could happen more quickly.

 

?He?s a guy that has a lot of the natural ingredients that it?s going to take to be a successful ball player,? said Brian Chattin, the Marlins? director of player development. ?He?s exactly what you look for in the top of the lineup. He can get on base and he has such a gift for stealing bases.?

 

Iapoce admires the way Raynor ?wants to get better and never gets content or comfortable.?

 

Max Raynor likes his son?s methodical approach to his pro career, treating the major leagues not as a possibility but as a step in a natural progression.

 

?To him, it?s not a matter of if, but when,? Max said. ?He seems to be giving it his all and one day I hope he?s able to look back and say he did his best.?

 

Roy Raynor knows a thing or two about what it takes. And he likes what he sees in his grandson. Barring injury, Roy said, ?in two or three years he?ll be somebody?s outfielder.?

 

And he can take pleasure in the fact that it all started with him.

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I loved this article, thought I would share.

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why are you yelling though?

 

I just copied the title from the article and pasted it in the subject box.

 

As for why he is LF, McDougal(I am guessing) was the incumbent in CF, and Raynor will move back to CF once he is promoted.

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why are you yelling though?

 

I just copied the title from the article and pasted it in the subject box.

 

As for why he is LF, McDougal(I am guessing) was the incumbent in CF, and Raynor will move back to CF once he is promoted.

Greg Burns and Scott Cousins have been playing CF

 

Spike McDougal has been playing 1b, as well as some OF

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