Former MLB player finds his way back to the Hawk's nest
Published: Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Updated: Thursday, December 29, 2011 12:12
Born in Memphis, Tenn., John Raynor's family moved to Benson, N.C. when he was just a baby. It was there where Raynor's passion for baseball started. After performing well in high school, Raynor got recruited by UNC Wilmington to play baseball. Raynor's major was and still is biology.
"I started out with biology," he said, "and it's kind of those things where I don't know or plan on doing anything with it, but I'm close to finishing it, so I'm going to get it done to see what's out there for me."
As Raynor put it, he was a very "raw" player coming out of high school. He didn't start his freshman year, but he and his team made progress down the stretch. "We won two conference championships in 2004 and 2006 while I played and we went to regionals three times," he said.
Raynor got drafted his junior year by the Baltimore Orioles in 2005, but he didn't sign with the Major League Baseball club. "I had a lot of school to finish and I was a little behind because I was a biology major and I could only take one lab course in the spring since I played baseball," he said. "The other reason why I didn't sign was that the relationship with the scouting group from the Baltimore Orioles did not go well. The one scout in particular had a hot temper and hung up on me a few times and it was just a bad sign not to go to that team."
After Raynor didn't sign with the Orioles, the Florida Marlins drafted him in 2006 in the ninth round and sent him to the minor leagues. He worked his way up to Triple A and in 2007, Raynor had his best year statistically with the Greensboro Grasshoppers. That year, Raynor had 110 runs, 148 hits, 13 home runs, 57 RBIs and a .333 batting average. After playing for Greensboro, Raynor joined another North Carolina minor league team: the Carolina Mudcats.
As Raynor improved, he kept getting promoted and started playing with more well-known teams. He went to his first MLB camp in 2009, but instead of joining the Major Leagues, he was sent to a Triple A minor league team in New Orleans. Raynor hoped to get his big break after New Orleans, but it didn't work out that way.
"How it works is a team has four years to keep you on a 40-man roster, so as far the Marlins, I had a down year that year so it was enough for them to not put me on the roster for next year," he explained. "So once I was released by the Marlins, the Pittsburgh Pirates ended up getting me."
However, even though Raynor got his shot at the big leagues, it wasn't as glamorous as one might expect. "I was basically the fifth outfielder on the roster, and I was just a pinch hitter and they were going to ease me in. Things were going good at first, but we got into a really bad spot where we weren't playing really well. Starting pitchers were not doing so great. so they were using the bullpen up because guys needed rest.
"They ended up bringing four or five guys from the minor leagues to try and fill in and finally we got into a really bad spot where we had to kick someone off the 40-man roster and I was probably the second or third one to go after they got their pitchers. It wasn't that I failed at an opportunity; I just ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time. That's how the dice rolled."
After Raynor left the Pirates, they put him on waivers. A waiver goes out to every team, but the worst teams have first dibs before the rest of the league. After no one selected him, the Pirates went through seven days of negotiating a trade with his former team, the Marlins, but the attempt was unsuccessful.
"After all that happened, I drove back home to Benson from Pittsburgh and sat at home for 10 days while the Pirates were dealing with all that, and I sat there waiting to see where I would end up," he said. "They called me and told me that they couldn't make it happen, so I had to go to Triple A where I was the year before in New Orleans."
After playing all of last year in New Orleans, Raynor wasn't happy being back with the Marlins, because they were the ones who didn't necessarily protect him on the roster in the first place. During the offseason, Raynor asked if he could have an opportunity to play somewhere else. He wanted to be released so he could explore more options in the MLB. The Marlins wouldn't release him, though, so Raynor left. He is back in school at UNCW to complete his degree as a biology major and he is also a part of the baseball coaching staff.
"I work as a undergraduate assistant and it's something that I felt like I needed to do to give back to those who helped me," he said. "I really get a big kick out of seeing people get better, and we're seeing that with a few guys. There's so much more for them to learn."
Raynor is currently married and lives in an apartment not too far off from the UNCW campus. He is hoping to help support the current Seahawks and lead them to conference championships. "I'm excited about trying something new and ready to see where it leads."