Friday, February 28, 2014

Interview: Former MLBer and 1st Round Pick Justin Wayne

As my congregants know I have a wall full of Jewish MLBers rookie cards hanging in my office. A congregant walks into my office, looks at the hanging cards and says "hey that's Justin." Of course, I immediately asked for his contact information and Justin was gracious enough to answer some questions. We spoke on the phone for a while and he has some great stories. Justin, while career in the majors was short, had a lot of amazing baseball moments including meeting Sandy Koufax. Below is a little more about Stanford great and Jewish MLBer, Justin Wayne.

 Displaying WayneandKofax.jpg

1) Tell TGR a little bit about yourself?
Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. Both parents from New York, who moved out to the Islands before my brothers and I were born. We played every sport growing up, not focused specifically on baseball until late into high school. Along with going to the beach as often as possible when we were younger, our priority was academics and family. I have visited South Korea, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, many countries in the Carribean, and all the states except Montana. My interests in school were always geography, math and sciences. I have been living in Florida since I finished college, and now that my brothers live in south Florida with me, it seems to be the place that I will stay. I will be getting married this fall and look forward to having little Jewish athletic scholars of my own.

2) What was it like growing up playing baseball in Hawaii? Was it harder to get noticed?

Baseball was very competitive in Hawaii. Many times we participated on travel teams during the summer and competed in the continental United States. These travel teams have showcased Hawaii’s talent since before I was around. In High School, we had scouts come to the islands to evaluate us just about every week of the baseball season. Some professional teams even had local scouts, including scouts that worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau, that were able to watch us develop even before High School.

3) What was your experience at Stanford like? When did you know it would like to the MLB?

I was so lucky to be able to attend Stanford. Everything from the academics to the athletics is top notch, as well as the ability to meet and become friends with kids from all over the country. I probably realize it more now then while attending, but the campus might be the most beautiful in the whole country. Once I became familiar with the Stanford Baseball Team, I saw many of my teammates using the program as a stepping stool to a career in Professional Baseball. I would say sometime during my sophomore year I began to believe that I might also have the chance to follow that path that so many before me took: an opportunity to live out all of our childhood dreams and play in the Major Leagues.

4) You were drafted 5th overall by the Montreal Expos. What was that moment like?
Because we knew there was a good chance a team would be calling us that day, my roommates and I,
including my older brother who was in town, were all waiting in our apartment. When the phone rang, it was as if I had forgotten about all the hard work that had been put in up to that point. It seemed just too good to be true. I wanted to call everyone I knew and let them know that I had just been given the key to the candy store. Not a lot of time was given to celebrating, as we were in the middle of getting ready for school finals, and preparing to go the College World Series. It will surely be a day that I will never forget.

5) Eventually you were a key component in a blockbuster trade involving Carl Pavano and Cliff Floyd. What is it like to be traded at that level?
I was just getting back from the Double-A All Star game in 2002, and was caught completely by surprise. Mixed feelings quickly spread through my mind. Did I let my team down, did they not think I was capable, were they trying to get rid of me? But from the positive end, another team was so interested in me, that they must have seen me as a valuable asset and a player that would make a positive impact on their club. This was an exciting feeling. A new situation gave me new opportunities. Within two months of the trade, I made my first appearance with the Florida Marlins.

6) What was the moment like when you were finally called up to the Majors?
I was sitting in our Calgary locker room, which is where the Triple-A team was for the Florida Marlins, when I was given the news that I would be called up at the beginning of September. As soon as I was told that I would make my first start with the Big League club, I tried to contact every person I knew that would be able to make it to New York to watch me pitch against the Mets. With family in town as far away as Hawaii, I was a nervous wreck. But what I had learned was that you could channel the anxiety, nervousness, and unknown to your advantage. Except for not covering first baseball on a double play opportunity, that moment will be like none other in my life. It seemed like every second flew by with anticipation, but I have such a clear memory of everything that happened that day as if it was yesterday.

7) Looking back on your experience, did you learn any specific life lessons?

Life lessons happen every day of our lives, sometimes without us recognizing it until we are much older. With all competitive athletes in any competition, whether in the Major Leagues or not, you will always find some that will, and some that won’t. I am not talking about winning and losing, but of putting yourself out there and not knowing what the result will be, just that you did everything you could to succeed. There will always be someone bigger, someone stronger, someone more capable. But if nobody works harder than you, nobody studies more than you and prepares to do the best that you can do, then you will never have to live with regret. You will never have to worry about the unknown, because you maximize what you are capable of, and that is success. In the classroom, on the field, with relationships, with life.

8) What was your Jewish upbringing like? Was it fun having brothers who also were very talented baseball players?

Our Temple (Emanuel) in Hawaii was a lot of fun. We had about 9-10 students in each grade. Most of
the kids we grew up with were not Jewish. From my high school, I think there were 5 Jewish students in my grade, out of 450. While my brothers each had their Bar-Mitzvah in Hawaii, I had mine in Oceanside, NY (with a cousin who was very close in age). This was a significant change, as they had about 50 kids per class at their Hebrew school. This, along with the fact my brothers and I were close in age, created a very close relationship between the three of us. The three musketeers if you will. And the yes, the competition between us was always high. Sometimes to the point we got in trouble for it.

9) What do you do these days?
I separated myself from baseball to give myself a chance to pursue other ideas. I am now working as a financial professional, dealing with protecting and creating wealth for my clients through a quantitative and holistic approach. This has a lot to do with what I have always been passionate about, which is numbers and economic trends. I also am a great uncle to my niece and nephew.

10) Anything else you want to tell the TGR fans?

There are not many things in life more exhilarating than to assimilate one’s self with a sport, team or
player. Being a fan of the game is something that you can never out grow. I will never lose my passion and love for the game of baseball, even though my playing days are in the past. We just carry that with us and pass it down to the people we show it to.

Thank you to Justin. Great guy. Great story.

And Let Us Say...Amen.
- Jeremy Fine