This weekend was the peak of Jimmy Boyd’s high school career. He was all smiles not only Saturday, when Middle Creek laid claim to the title, but also Friday, when he and his coach Jeremy Thompson walked side-by-side as the last two to exit the field at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
But it wasn’t long ago that Boyd felt like he was bottoming out. It took a turnaround to get to this point, to be the Most Valuable Player of the state championship series.
It was the end of Boyd’s junior season for the Middle Creek baseball team, the second straight year he had watched his game decline. His relationship with his coaches, his teachers and the game he loved – or, once loved – had deteriorated, as well.
“I’ve been at my lows and I’ve come up now and I feel like I’m at my highs,” Boyd said. “I’m more happy with who I am, but I’m always trying to better myself.”
Perhaps a sophomore slump was unavoidable. Boyd is the first four-year starter in Thompson’s seven seasons at the school, and Thompson was rewarded for placing him into the starting lineup as a 15-year-old when Boyd was named all-state as a freshman, while hitting .474 and four home runs.
But then came year two. Boyd wasn’t hitting at the same rate – just .308.
“People figure you out and all of a sudden it’s tougher. It’s more difficult,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to battle through it and sometimes it frustrates you to the point where you don’t want to battle through it.”
By his junior year, Boyd says he was angry at the world. He was hitting .258, his ERA was over 2.00 for the first time in his career, and he went through several pairs of batting gloves after taking them off with such fury that they ripped.
“I let the things off the field affect my love for the game on the field,” Boyd said. “Whenever I was frustrated or in a slump, instead of going out there and trying to fix my problems and go to the batting cage, I would just sit there and try do something else to make me forget about it. Basically do nothing and be lazy.”
A changing summer
A friend reached out to Boyd between his junior and senior year.
Landon Balint, a 2011 graduate of Middle Creek, thought he could help. He had gone through similar problems, and had a front-row seat to Boyd’s meltdowns.
“I always didn’t know what was wrong with him... I was looking from afar at that point,” Balint said. “He could be as good as he wanted to be. After I started to hang out with him more and I got to know him better, I knew he just needed an attitude adjustment.”
Boyd didn’t play for a showcase team, which is what most highly-touted recruits join to be seen by more college coaches, and he didn’t play for the school’s summer team. He joined Balint as part of the Cary Babe Ruth team.
The team won, and Balint and Boyd became close friends. Balint told him of how his first two years of high school were spent making bad grades and being a disturbance for his junior varsity team. He told Boyd how much it cost him, and what he learned from it.
Boyd listened to those heart-to-hearts. As rewarding as the summer was for Boyd personally, he suffered in his college recruitment.
Boyd had Division I college coaches after him since his breakout freshman year. But after Boyd’s Babe Ruth team reached the Southeast championship game, months passed and no Division I coaches called. Boyd knew why.
“Everyone just kind of forgot about me,” he said.
During this season, Boyd committed to Brunswick Community College (Bolivia, N.C.).
After not playing for his school’s summer team, Boyd and Thompson entered this season unsure of what their relationship would be. It was no secret they had butted heads over the past two seasons while Boyd struggled with his anger.
But it only took a few weeks for all to realize that something had changed with the senior.
“It was a matter of learning, maturing and growing not only as a baseball player but as a person – and that’s where his biggest strides have been this year,” Thompson said. “That’s your goal as a coach to see someone grow and mature and see them become someone special not only on the field but in the community, in the classroom and to be an all-around good citizen when they leave.”
Boyd understands what has changed.
“I’ve just grown up a little bit. The things that used to really bother me, I think about it for one split second and I let it go,” Boyd said. Boyd’s batting average went up to .450, and he hit higher than .550 in the playoffs. He’s also pitched the best he ever has, posting a 0.86 ERA with a 8-1 record.
Boyd is proud of himself as well. He knows he’s come a long way. And he’s now seen what’s possible when he, as he puts it, has his “head on straight.”
“I feel like I’m close to the top. There’s a little bit more to go, but I feel I’m close to the top,” Boyd said.