EMU baseball player Jaylon Lee announced yesterday that he will play for D-1 James Madison University next year. Lee, named May 13 as the 2022 All-ODAC First Team, has one year of eligibility remaining. He was a this season. Lee has signed to spend the summer with the Harrisonburg Turks in the Valley League. In 2021, while playing for the Woodstock River Bandits and representing the North team in the All-Star Game, he earned team MVP honors.
Lee graduated May 8 from EMU with a BA in recreation and sports management. He was honored by faculty in the Business and Leadership Program as outstanding senior within his major.
The following article was published in the May 17 Daily News-Record.
Jaylon Lee didn’t grow up on the dirt of little league baseball fields. Instead he spent time inside Hampton Roads area bowling alleys with his family.
The Newport News native picked up bowling at the age of three and ran with it. It was a family hobby and he continued to bowl through high school, playing on a local team. Lee wasn’t bad at it either, earning scholarship money to continue throwing spares and strikes on a college team.
Lee didn’t take it, though, instead settling for a different kind of strike — one that’s thrown to him in the batter’s box.
“I figured I wanted to do something a little bit more fun,” Lee said of choosing baseball over bowling.
Lee started playing baseball in high school, so he was relatively new to the sport when it came time for colleges to recruit him.
He didn’t garner an offer from any college programs, but Eastern Mennonite gave him a chance on the diamond. Lee has been a career .332 hitter in five seasons at the D-III university.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Lee decided to enter the transfer portal and James Madison came calling.
It didn’t take long for Lee to commit to the purple and gold. He was on a phone call with Dukes hitting coach Alex Guera, who offered him a spot on the team, and he took it on the spot.
“When I went into the portal, I just knew from the jump if they offered, that would obviously be my new home,” Lee said. “It was a go as soon as it happened.”
Before Lee became a standout outfielder with EMU, he had to learn the basics of hitting since he didn’t have a lot of baseball experience. Pitchers knew Lee had trouble with offspeed pitches, so they fired curveballs and sliders his way and he wasn’t too comfortable in the box hitting those.
EMU head coach Adam Posey helped put together a plan for Lee to identify the spin on the ball, trying to fill in the development gaps that he had since he grew up bowling and playing football.
Posey first sat down with Lee and showed him video of different pitches before using a pitching machine to replicate the spin. The idea was to get as many reps as possible for Lee to get comfortable in the box.
This past winter, the Royals batters used virtual reality to help train pitch identification. For Lee, that meant seeing as many breaking balls as he could and whether or not it would be a pitch to hit or take.
“He’s special,” Posey said. “He’s built for the moment and you try to get out of his way after you give him a couple coaching points.”
The work paid off for Lee, who hit a career-best .382 this season with EMU, belting 10 home runs and driving in a career-high 43 runs. Lee said after working on hitting offspeed, those are pitches he looks for in the batter’s box rather than a fastball.
Lee spent time in the Valley Baseball League last summer facing pitchers from all over the country in the wood-bat summer league, an opportunity that almost didn’t come to fruition. Posey called every team in the league, working to get Lee on a squad as a team’s possible fourth outfielder or a bottom-of-the-lineup hitter. Most teams said no or were already full until Posey called the Woodstock River Bandits, who gave Lee a chance.
Well, that chance was all Lee needed.
Lee surpassed Posey’s expectations pretty quickly with the River Bandits, hitting .270 in the regular season with 10 multi-hit games en route to being selected to the league’s all-star game.
“I don’t think the moment overwhelms him,” Posey said. “I don’t think he’s going to back down from much.”
For Lee, he wasn’t sure where he would fit in with the league’s pitching, but he was looking for his pitches to hit. Once he started finding success, he realized it wasn’t a fluke that he was hitting well.
“Once I finally started settling in, it did give me that boost of ‘OK, I do belong on this level of play,’” Lee said. “It definitely did give me a confidence boost.”
Lee said the experience in the Valley League will help in his transition to JMU next season, seeing pitchers who are polished around the strike zone with faster velocity behind their pitches.
He won’t have to go far — about two miles — to spend his final collegiate season, but it’s something that will resemble a full-circle moment for Lee.
As a high school senior, Lee attended a JMU baseball camp, where he first met the Dukes coaching staff. It was also the only college baseball camp that Lee ever attended.
“It’s kind of like I was destined to be at JMU,” Lee said.
Before Lee strides into the box with a purple batting helmet on, he’ll patrol the outfield at Veterans Memorial Park a little earlier than expected, but as a member of the Valley League’s Harrisonburg Turks.
Lee will be back in the Valley League for the second consecutive summer, but this time around it wasn’t Posey making the calls to get his outfielder on a team. It was the team calling Posey.
Harrisonburg head coach Bob Wease reached out in January to see if Lee would play for his club. He committed to play with the Turks soon after, but a few months later Lee made it official that he’d be at Veterans Memorial Park next spring with the Dukes, too.
“This isn’t a coincidence. This is what’s meant to be at this time,” Lee said. “I know it took a long time, but this is where I’m supposed to be now.”