Competitive Drive: Inspired by mother’s battle with terminal cancer, Kansas baseball player hopes to be ‘special’

Kansas

WICHITA (KSNT) – Incoming Wichita State baseball player Payton Toole is following in his mother’s footsteps as a Shocker student-athlete.

“With my mom going here, I’ve always been told that baseball is a ‘thing’ at Wichita State,” said Payton.

The Sunflower Collegiate League Home Run Derby champion has gotten a sneak peek of Kansas baseball this summer with the 316 Sluggers.

“I’ve seen that baseball in Wichita – in Kansas – is a big deal,” said Payton. “I’ve been able to get to know a lot of the guys and work with them. I’ve been able to play at Eck a couple of times and get to know the atmosphere with fans in the stands. It’s a great thing to get under my belt.”

Payton’s mother, Jina, was a golfer at Wichita State.

“I think she’s definitely super proud that she gets to keep being a Shockers fan,” said Payton. “She may have nudged me a little bit, but for the most part she let it be my decision.”

Payton was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and baseball at Bethany High School in Oklahoma before signing with Wichita State baseball.

“It’s an honor to be here. It’s such a blessing,” said Payton. “I’m ready to work hard, get my nose to the grindstone and see what we can do as a team. It’s an incredible opportunity to keep playing baseball.”

While he was recruited to pitch for the Shockers, the southpaw will have the opportunity to compete for a spot in the lineup as a two-way player for Wichita State.

“Coach [Mike] Pelfrey called me one day and said: “We’re going to let you hit. We’re going to let you compete in the fall.’ That’s what I plan to do. I plan to come in and put the bat on the ball a few times and see what happens.”

Payton is inspired by the current wave of two-way players in Major League Baseball.

“I always thought that there’s no way you can do both… it’s just unheard of,” said Payton. “Now, with players like Shohei Ohtani, whenever you can do that, it’s something special. Hopefully, I can be something special and do that.”

Off the field, a special bond with his mom keeps the game of baseball in perspective.

“When we come to a game, she’s not going to be the one yelling at the umpire the entire time,” said Payton. “There are bigger things in life than a baseball game.”

Donning the yellow and black at Eck Stadium has always been the dream for the mother-son duo, but on July 10, 2016, Jina was unsure she would live to see her son make it to college after a terminal colon cancer diagnosis.

“Since the beginning, we always had the mindset that it was going to be okay,” said Payton. “We weren’t going to let it affect our lives and we were going to come at this life-changing diagnosis and have a good attitude. Don’t let anything steal your joy.”

Payton admitted that leaving his family to start his college baseball career was difficult, but he never feels too far away: “I’ll call or text her to see how she’s doing. On an off day, I can drive out to see her.”

Five years and eighty rounds of chemotherapy later, Jina is still fighting to see her son live out his dream at their university.

“The biggest thing that she taught me through all of this is how to fight for the things that you love,” said Payton. “She loves me, my brother and my dad so much. Watching her fight for us is incredible.”

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