Former Sequoyah High School standout Danny Payne will take his place among Georgia Tech’s greatest athletes this fall when he is inducted in the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame.
Payne, an all-American baseball player, will be inducted at an Oct. 4 ceremony at Bobby Dodd Stadium, along with football players Derrick Morgan and Tashard Choice, tennis player Alison Silverio, softball player Caitlin Lever, golfer Cameron Tringale and longtime athletic trainer Jay Shoop.
“It’s a little surreal,” Payne said. “Georgia Tech has a very storied history in just about any sport. It’s a humbling experience. I was very excited to get that phone call to be a part of the history that is the Georgia Tech athletic program. You get to be mentioned in the same breath as the group of athletes in my class and those who went in before me.”
From 2005-07, Payne helped lead Georgia Tech to one of the program's most successful stretches. During that stretch, the Yellow Jackets won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 2005, went to the NCAA regionals twice and advanced to the College World Series in 2006.
Primarily an outfielder, Payne hit .332 with 18 home runs, 45 doubles, six triples, 120 RBIs and 64 stolen bases in 163 games. He also broke the school record with an 80-game hitting streak.
“With anything in life, the older you get, the more you appreciate what you’ve experienced,” Payne said. “You take a little bit of the team success we had for granted. The biggest thing, though, is the relationships that have formed over the years. I’ve maintained those well after we stepped off campus, and some of those have carried over to this day. It was a big family.”
After his junior season, Payne was named a first-team All-American and a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player. He was the 64th overall pick by the San Diego Padres after the season.
“It happens fast,” he said. “You dream about the draft. You blink, and it’s there. I would tell anybody to take a minute and enjoy it if they get that opportunity. It only happens once. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life, and as a kid in Georgia, that’s what you dream about. I was blessed to get that phone call. You can’t ask for more than that.”
After the draft, Payne spent five seasons in the Padres' organization, primarily at the Class A and advanced Class A levels, and hit .238 with 25 home runs and 193 RBIs.
As much as Georgia Tech prepared him, Payne said playing professionally was a very different experience.
“It’s a game of consistency,” he said. “Going from playing 60 games in college to 140-150 in the pros is an adjustment. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s something you have to mentally prepare for every day. Going through Georgia Tech and that competition does a lot to prepare you, but, at the end of of the day, it’s still an opportunity to wake up and play a game you love every day.”
Though his playing days are over, Payne has stayed close to the game as an agent and adviser for the ACES sport management company.
Payne once again lives in Cherokee County, where he first fell in love with the game he has built his life around, and he said he still feels the connections to his roots in the sport.
“It always comes back to the relationships, having grown up in the area and playing with or against players in all athletic endeavors," Payne said. "You grow up with a group of guys. You carry that competitiveness with you. The older you get, the better you were, so it’s fun to look back on it now and see what everyone is doing. I grew up playing with a lot of these guys I’m best friends with now.”