For the few North Olympic Peninsula baseball fans out there who have yet to rally around the Port Angeles Lefties, here’s a couple of homegrown reasons to jump on board — Sequim’s Nick Johnston and Port Angeles’ Travis Paynter are now part of the team’s pitching staff.
The former Wilder Baseball Club teammates and high school rivals were each selected as the Peninsula Daily News’ All-Peninsula Baseball MVPs after their respective senior seasons.
Both are thankful for the opportunity to pitch back on the Civic Field mound, site of many fond memories for each hurler.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to come back and play on our old field,” Paynter said.
“And it’s nice to see the improvements that have been made.”
Johnston, a 2014 Sequim High School graduate, made his debut for the Lefties on June 10, tossing a scoreless inning of relief with one strikeout in a win over Walla Walla.
“Originally, I wasn’t planning on playing ball this summer,” Johnston said. “But I got a call from my [college] coach right before our season ended asking if I wanted to play for the Lefties and I said, ‘Sure, that’s convenient for me.”
Johnston is only playing in home games for Port Angeles, as duties on his family’s produce farm in Agnew come first.
“I don’t go on the road trips. I work about six days a week on the farm and then I come in for the home games,” Johnston said.
“Busy summer, but I can’t ask for more.”
Johnston played two seasons at Edmonds Community College where he threw 44.1 innings and posted an ERA of 2.23. He also was a member of the NWAC All-Academic Team in his time with the Tritons.
This past spring, Johnston pitched for NAIA Division I Campbellsville (Kentucky) University, posting a 2.43 ERA in 33.1 innings, helping the Tigers win a Mid-South Conference championship and advance to the first round of the NAIA Baseball Tournament.
“Mostly out of the bullpen, but I did make a few spot starts,” Johnston said.
All that despite dealing with a recurring bout of bicep tendinitis in his throwing arm.
Johnston also was named as a NAIA Baseball Scholar-Athlete after posting at least a 3.5 GPA.
The left-hander has made five appearances on the season for the Lefties, posting a 6.75 ERA in 6.2 innings with six strikeouts and four walks. Three of his five outings have been spotless, including two scoreless innings and three strikeouts in front of a large home crowd in Port Angeles’ 6-1 win over Gresham on July 4, and the Lefties have won every game in which he’s pitched.
“My parents usually come to games, and I’ve had some friends come out to support me,” Johnston said.
Paynter, a 2016 Port Angeles High School graduate, has yet to appear in a West Coast League game for the Lefties, but did throw three innings for Port Angeles on July 11, in a 9-3 exhibition game win against the Thurston County Senators. He gave up one run on four hits and a walk in that contest despite coming down with an illness.
“I thought it was nerves, but that night I felt pretty sick,” Paynter said. “I ended up staying home for the trip to Walla Walla to rest and that was the right decision.”
Paynter did well in his freshman season at Lower Columbia, pitching in eight games, starting four and posting a 3.00 ERA as the Red Devils won their 12th NWAC championship.
“We got some rings and everything, it was awesome,” Paynter said. “I hope we can do it again and repeat. I would have liked to get some more innings, but I was happy with how I finished the season.”
He pitched three innings in a semifinal victory over Lane in the team’s title run, allowing one run on two hits.
Paynter opened the summer with Lefties’ co-owner Matt Acker’s Kitsap Blue Jackets, pitching in a exhibition against the WCL’s Bellingham Bells, and narrowly missing out on a chance to face Sequim’s Evan Hurn, who is playing for the Bells this season.
“I was doing well, but they took me out right before he came up to bat, Paynter said. “I really wanted to face him.”
A year ago, Paynter was interviewed by a reporter for his All-Peninsula MVP honor in the stands behind Civic Field’s home plate. The Lefties had just been introduced a couple of months before and the laid-back Paynter was an enthusiastic yes when asked about potentially coming back to play for the new club.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Paynter said Friday. “I’m glad there’s college-level baseball back home.”