Payton’s juggling part relaxation, part routine

AUSTIN (KXAN) — According to his teammates, Mark Payton is the unquestioned leader of the Texas baseball team. But try as they might to emulate the senior outfielder, there’s one part of his daily ritual that nobody can duplicate.

Payton can pop a baseball resting on the field in to the air with either end of the bat and then using the bat, juggle the ball in the air before swatting it with a full swing.

It’s a daily ritual for the senior, who leads Texas in batting and the Big 12 in on-base percentage.

“It’s something I can almost go to everyday that signifies it’s a new day. It’s a starting point of confidence for me. It might seem silly but some people put their left sock on before their right on game day. I wouldn’t say it’s a superstition, it’s just something I like to do to keep the game fun and enjoyable,” he said.

Payton’s hand-eye coordination is unmatched among his teammates.

“I’ve never seen anybody be able to control a bat like he can,” senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill said. “Whenever he plays pepper, no matter how many guys there are, he goes up and down the line one at a time.”

Payton traces his hand skills to a sport that few if any of his teammates ever played. The senior from Chicago was a standout hockey player before choosing to focus solely on baseball in high school.

“It’s the hockey player in me. I mean it’s something I always did in hockey,” Payton said of the juggling. “Talking about hockey brings a smile to my face every time but I know I made the right choice by playing baseball. I really love this game.”

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