For the most part, Payton, a junior outfielder at the University of Texas, has been able to remain focused and avoid the urge to respond verbally to hecklers.
He prefers to let his bat do the talking. This season, Payton’s Marucci bat is talking — to the tune of a team-best .406 batting average through Thursday.
He also leads the Longhorns in triples (4), RBI (15) and slugging percentage (.580) through 20 games.
“It’s nice having some guys hitting around me,” said Payton, Texas’ cleanup hitter. “It’s also my third year now. I know the pitching a little better and what pitches I can handle and what pitches I can’t.”
Payton’s coach at Texas, Augie Garrido, is a college baseball legend, the all-time winningest coach in Division I history with more than 1,800 wins. Garrido’s teams have won five national championships during a 44-year career, with stops along the way at San Francisco State, Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton twice, Illinois and Texas.
Garrido is the only coach to lead two different college programs — Cal State Fullerton and Texas —to national titles.
He’s coached 52 All-Americans and had 117 players selected in the Major League Baseball Draft, including 15 first-rounders.
My point is, Garrido has seen it all, coached and played against the best players in college baseball. Even he’s impressed with what Payton, a former SouthtownStar Player of the Year, has been able to achieve this season.
“Mark’s gift is his attitude, his commitment, his belief in himself, his will, his character and his mental toughness,” Garrido said of Payton, a 2010 St. Rita graduate. “There isn’t anything in his mind he can’t do, which is why he can do things a lot of other people can’t do.”
Such as hitting above .400, while leading Texas to a 12-8 record.
Of course, 20 games doesn’t make a season. But take into consideration the Longhorns boast a team batting average of just .256, and through Thursday only one other starter was hitting above .300. That makes what the 175-pound Payton is doing even more impressive.
“I’m just playing hard and letting things take care of themselves,” Payton said.
Payton always has been a humble kid, even during his record-setting days at St. Rita. The left-handed-hitting Payton hit balls as hard and as far as any player I have covered. The home run he hit as a junior during the Class 4A state finals at Silver Cross Field in Joliet still might be traveling if the ball hadn’t hit high off the building beyond right field.
As an alumnus, parent or friend of St. Rita High School, you know the importance of a quality, Catholic, Augustinian, College Prep education. Young men who receive a well-rounded education, like that offered at St. Rita, can change the world and enrich society. Each of our young men receives the foundation needed to make a difference when they graduate from St. Rita.
What you may not know, however, is 60% of our students require some amount of Financial Aid in order to be able to attend St. Rita. The 2012 – 2013 Annual Appeal will help to fund the Financial Aid needs of over 420 young men so that they can stay in school. It is loyal alumni and benefactors like you who choose to support St. Rita through gifts to the Annual Appeal each year that allow us to continue make a St. Rita education available to any young man who wants to be here.
If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, then help St. Rita provide a quality, Catholic, Augustinian, College Prep education to deserving young men. Your generosity will make a difference not only in the life of a young Ritaman, but will make a difference in our society. During just the last five fiscal years alone the Annual Appeal has provided over $3,200,000 to assist current families keep their sons at St. Rita. Thanks to generous alumni and friends continuing to answer the call for support each year, lives are being changed. The faculty and staff of St. Rita are able to make a difference in the lives of our students thanks to your generosity.
In order to double or triple your gift to St. Rita’s Annual Appeal, see if your company offers a Matching Gift Program. Gift matching companies may match a portion or your entire gift to St. Rita with their own funds. What a great way to make a difference! Is your company a gift a matching gift company? Please visit www.stritahs.com/alumni/ to see a list of companies that match their employee’s donations.
Darius Fleming, who’s on the San Francisco 49ers’ Super Bowl XLVIIroster despite suffering a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee, originally dreamed of a pro bowling career.
As a St. Rita sophomore, the Auburn Gresham native pondered transferring to nearby Brother Rice, which had a better bowling squad.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” said 15th-year football head coach Todd Kuska, a West Lawn native. “I told him you can win an individual state bowling title anywhere, but you can only win a state football championship here.”
Kuska, also a St. Rita grad, was right as Fleming led the Mustangs to the 2006 Class 7A state crown as a junior before a standout career as an outside linebacker at the University of Notre Dame.
The 49ers, who will face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in New Orleans, selected Fleming in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
But Fleming’s season lasted only 15 minutes as he tore his left ACL during his first rookie minicamp.
The 49ers put Fleming, who signed a four-year contract, on the physically unable to perform list for the first eight weeks and moved him to injured reserve for the remainder of this season.
“For some reason, it was meant for me to tear my ACL, as crazy as that sounds,” Fleming, 23, said via cell phone from California on Friday. “I just pretty much accepted it and took it as a wakeup call.”
Athletic director Mike Zunica said St. Rita, one of Chicago’s top football programs, has sent eight players to the NFL, including current St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Matt Conrath.
On December 27 and 28th, the St. Rita High School Young Alumni Club and Office of Institutional Advancement held their second annual Young Alumni Basketball Tournament at St. Rita. The tournament was a major success, as over 100 players participated and competed amongst old friends, classmates, and teammates.
10 teams in total were in attendance, ranging from members of the class of 2012 all the way down to a member from the class of 1989. Close to 75 members of St. Rita’s Classes of 2000 through 2009 were there.
Each team was guaranteed at least two games in a round-robin format, where the top four teams advanced to play in the tournament’s semi-finals and eventually the finals. For the early round-robin format, two games were played at once in St. Rita’s gym while the semi-finals and finals took place on the full court.
Each player was given a t-shirt and pizza and drinks while they waited for their game to begin. The games were very competitive and intense, as dozens of former St. Rita basketball players were in attendance and many current Division-one athletes—all St. Rita graduates.
When all was said and done, Paul Standring ’03 and his team were crowned champions of the tournament. Paul’s team consisted of alumni Joe Volpentesta ’89, Brian McCarthy ’05, Mike Rourke ’06, Mike Gallik ’06, Tommy Harrington ’06 and a few others as well.
In the finals, Standring’s team defeated last year’s champions in Kevin Carroll and Bill Bendoraitis’ team (both 2003 graduates). Carroll and Bendoraitis’ team was made up of Steve and Ed Bendoraitis ’97, Kevin Statham ’01, Mike Mehalak ’03, Dave Kipp ’03, Brian Hagen ’04, and Pete Balsam ’07.
It was another successful tournament for young alumni of St. Rita, many of whom are home for the holidays on Christmas breaks from college, while others just wanted to play hoops for a few nights and relive some of their glory.
There will be future young alumni events coming up as well, so stay tuned as the Mustang Young Alumni Club plans its 2nd annual Softball Tournament for this upcoming summer!
The Mustang Young Alumni Club consists of Mike Cashman ’99, Mike Porfirio ’00, Paul Standring ’03, Mike Cummings ’04, Jack Byrne ’05, Mike Shanahan ’05, Bill Heaney ’05, and Ed Leiser ’04.
The New England Patriots signed quarterback Mike Kafka to a future contract for the 2013 season on Friday.
Kafka, graduated from St. Rita in 2005 and went on to be a standout at Northwestern. From there he was a fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles where he spent his entire career as the primary backup to Donvan McNabb, Kevin Kolb and Michael Vick.
Unfortunately Kafka broke his hand before the start of the 2012 season and did not play.
Kafka joins San Francisco 49er and Notre Dame linebacker, Darius Fleming, as well as Matt Conrath (St. Louis Rams) as St. Rita alumni in the NFL.
On Friday, December 14, St. Rita welcomed back members of its 1963 Running Mustangs basketball team to help celebrate the team’s upcoming 50th anniversary of winning both the Catholic League and city championships.
Both Head Coach Ed Galvin and Assistant Coach Bob Kopecky were in attendance as well as players Larry Wilebski, Dr. Jack Gardner, Ken Gutrich, and Mike Mueller. Many of the team members had not seen each other since high school, though some had kept in touch through monthly phone calls and gatherings.
The ’63 basketball squad—one of St. Rita High School’s finest—defeated Catholic League rivals Leo Catholic, St. Ignatius, Mt. Carmel, Br. Rice, and Gordon Tech, among others, en route to a Catholic League championship. The city champs would eventually be defeated by 18 points at Chicago Stadium in front of over 1,500 St. Rita fans, but it was a memorable season all the same. Among the many highlights of the season was a 100-51 victory over the Leo Lions and a 50-point game from St. Rita forward Bill Daly.
The team was honored with a pre-game ceremony with team and player introductions after enjoying pizza and refreshments in the McCarthy Student Center before the game. They also had court-side seats to watch St. Rita defeat the Leo Lions 53-45. Thank you to the members of the ’63 basketball team for making it out to St. Rita!
Other than a blip in his final outing of the annual five-week prospects league, Zych likely did just that. The 22-year-old St. Rita graduate and Monee native didn’t leave Arizona with great numbers when play concluded in mid-November — he was 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA, four strikeouts and two walks in 13 appearances — but he routinely cracked 95 mph on the radar gun.
“Tony Zych, now you are talking about a next-level talent,” said Matt Herges, his pitching coach with the Mesa Solar Sox and a member of the Dodgers organization. “His fastball is not something you see every day. He is one of those in-your-face guys with great mound presence. I love the way he goes about it. He just has that great mound presence.”
What Zych doesn’t yet have is consistency.
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander, drafted in the fourth round by the Cubs in 2011, jumped from Class A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee in 2012. At Daytona, he went 3-3 with six saves, 36 strikeouts, seven walks and a 3.19 ERA in 27 appearances covering 36⅔ innings, While the strikeouts remained impressive in Double-A — he had 28 in 24⅔ innings — 12 walks and a 4.38 ERA over those 20 appearances were less so.
“This has been great, competing against all these young guys and seeing how they go about their business,” Zych said. “Obviously, I think my velocity is a strong point and that I have the mentality of a power pitcher. A weakness is my consistency and I am here hoping to work on that.”
The fact he was in Arizona indicates the Cubs believe he’s been making progress.
“Tony pitched very well this past year, he improved his fastball and throwing downhill, which is going to be his game — he has a power arm,” Cubs farm director Brandon Hyde said. “We want to see him (in Arizona) facing the top competition on a daily basis and continue to make strides.”
Brian Harper, Zych’s manager with Daytona and hitting coach for the Solar Sox, has seen as much of Zych as anybody. He’s already seen strides.
“You know he had a little bit of a rocky start down in Daytona in this his first full year of pro ball, but he has learned how to make pitches,” Harper said. “I think he has the potential to be a back end reliever in the big leagues, whether it is the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.”
Things have evolved considerably since 2008, when Zych first was drafted by the Cubs. Selected in the 45th round, the pitcher/second baseman opted to go from St. Rita to the University of Louisville.
“I was just a young player and still a two-way player and not 100 percent locked in on what I was going to do,” Zych said. “So it made sense to go to Louisville, as there was a two-way option there.”
After morphing into one of the top closers in the Big East — Zych saved 12 games as a junior after bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation his first two years — the Cubs again drafted him, this time in the fourth round, with the 129th overall pick.
He pitched in four games after being drafted in 2011, then started a quick-rising 2012 that could see him invited to spring training with the parent club in 2013.
“Here is a guy that hasn’t been pitching that long professionally and he already is in the AFL,” Solar Sox manager Rodney Linares said. “He is showing people what he can do. The stuff is there; he has a plus fastball and his breaking pitches are coming along.”
“It’s 50-50,” the St. Rita grad said before throwing a scoreless ninth inning Friday for Mesa in an 8-4 victory at Scottsdale in an Arizona Fall League game. “You get some that like (me pitching in the Cubs’ organization), and some that don’t. But everyone is behind me, so it’s good.”
Speculating on what the 2010 St. Rita graduate’s numbers would have looked like with a healthy throwing shoulder is pointless, but it’s clear that offseason surgery hasn’t set him back any more than the labrum tear he played with throughout 2011.
After completing the most passes (203) in school history, throwing for the third-highest yardage total (2,528) and leading Wesleyan to a 9-2 season, a pain-free Gallik and the Titans are off to a strong start again this fall.
The Titans are 4-0 and ranked No. 13 in Division III following Saturday’s dramatic 34-33 overtime victory against Millikin in the first game of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin season.
“I tore my labrum going into the first week of the season last year,” Gallik said. “The doctor said I really couldn’t do any more damage by playing through it.
“It was constantly sore, but we were able to manage it pretty well. I didn’t need a cortisone shot until the last week of the season.”
The final game was a 33-27 triple-overtime loss to Monmouth in the first round of the Division III playoffs. While it left the Titans with a sour memory of an otherwise successful season, Gallik didn’t have much time to feel sorry for himself.
He underwent surgery in January and spent months rebuilding his arm strength.
“I got cleared to start throwing halfway through June, and even in August I was on limited reps,” Gallik said. “I didn’t really start letting it loose until about a week-and-a-half before the season.”
Gallik’s numbers through four games are down just a touch from last season, but as a product of St. Rita’s grind-it-out attack, he understands that statistics are not a full measurement of a quarterback.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior rallied the Titans from a 27-13 deficit against Millikin, forcing overtime with a 16-play, 98-yard drive that ended with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
“He doesn’t complain; he just gets it done,” Wesleyan coach Norm Eash said. “Any time your quarterback plays with pain like he did last year, the rest of the team sees that. I think it sets a good example.”
Rob Gallik file
College: Illinois Wesleyan.
High school: St. Rita.
Numbers: 69-for-106, 862 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs.
Courtesy of Mike Helfgot, Special to the Tribune