By Dave Wagner
Editor’s note: This is a periodic series on former area coaches and players.
After a a rocky start, former Clovis High baseball coach Chad Payne has his Houston Memorial squad rolling along in first place in District 21-5A.
The Mustangs went 5-8 in predistrict games, but led the district with a 9-0 record heading into a game on Tuesday afternoon.
A 1986 Portales High grad, Payne spent 10 years at Clovis (1991-2000), the first four as an assistant and the last six as head coach. He was an assistant at Memorial for three seasons before taking the helm this year.
“We’re doing pretty well,” he said. “We’ve got a good team, and have a lot of returning starters from last year. We’ve got a lot of speed and power, and our pitching is real deep.”
One of his top players is junior third baseman-pitcher Koby Clemens, the oldest son of Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens. Payne said Koby is hitting .404 with four home runs, and has a 4-1 record as a pitcher.
“It’s kind of nice to have him around,” Payne said of the younger Clemens. “Roger throws batting practice to us sometimes, and we’ve been able to use his indoor facility (to practice on rainy days).”
Payne, who teaches geometry at Memorial, played one season in college at Lubbock Christian before transferring to his hometown Eastern New Mexico University — before ENMU had its current baseball program.
“It was a matter of economics,” he said. “It was cheaper for me to go to Eastern.”
He said he still keeps up with the Clovis program from time to time, noting that he coached current seniors Jason Seefeld, Ryan Denton and Mark Young when they were in eighth grade.
“He was a big part of getting me started in baseball and teaching me all the little things,” said Seefeld, a shortstop-pitcher for the Cats who has signed to play college baseball at the University of Arizona. “We usually (communicate by) e-mail once or twice a month, or we talk on the phone.”
Seefeld said he got congratulations from Payne after signing with Arizona.
“You could tell he had ability (back) then,” Payne said. “Jason started a couple of games for us as an eighth grader. I’m excited for him and what he’s been able to do.”
Under the direction of another Portales grad, Shane Shallenberger, Clovis has made the postseason each of the last two years after a 40-year dry spell.
Payne said the Wildcats were close to qualifying in 1998, noting that Clovis and Roswell Goddard tied for second behind Carlsbad in their then-Class 4A district. Even though the Wildcats won three of the four head-to-head meetings during the regular season, they were required to have a playoff for the district’s second postseason berth and Goddard advanced with a 2-1 win.
“I still consider that as a playoff year for us,” Payne said. “We got beat on a technicality.”