Dwayne Puryear may have had his baseball career cut short by injury, but thanks to his expertise, many other players are getting the help they need to extend their playing days. Perhaps Puryear’s crowning achievement came this past week when one of his students, left-handed pitcher Dylan Sons of Martinsville, was drafted in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Kansas City Royals.
Although Sons is Puryear’s first student to sign a major league deal, he has helped supply colleges with plenty of talent since opening the Blue Ridge Hitting & Pitching Instruction Center five years ago.
“This year, we’ve had 26 of our senior players commit (to play college baseball), and that’s just the ones who have called or emailed to tell us how excited they are,” said Puryear, who has students travel from all over Virginia, as well as several other states.
“About 70 percent of our kids drive a hour and a half or more. We have one kid who comes from New Jersey, several from along the North Carolina-South Carolina border, and others from the Mount Airy and Winston-Salem areas.”
Puryear, who played his high school ball at Halifax County, had visions of his own major league career when he signed with James Madison University.
“I was at James Madison the year we went to the College World Series in 1983. We were the first team from Virginia to reach the world series,” noted Puryear, who later transferred to Virginia Wesleyan College In Norfolk. “The coach there had real good connections with guys who could help me out in the draft.”
However, Puryear’s visions of making it to “the show” were dashed his senior year.
“I was being looked at by the (Atlanta) Braves when I injured my arm in a regional tournament,” said Puryear. “I pitched in the semifinals, then played center field in the finals. My arm was a little tight and I hurt it on a throw from the outfield.”
Puryear stayed on at Virginia Wesleyan after graduation , serving as a pitching coach for four years. After one year off, he returned for a five-year stint. During that time, he began working as an instructor at baseball camps.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I make my living in baseball. I had hoped to be playing, but that didn’t work out. Still, I love the instructional part,” he said.
Puryear’s decision to open his pitching and hitting center in Hillsville came about on a visit to see his mother.
“I came to visit my mom and loved the area. Virginia Beach was getting too hectic,” said Puryear. “I looked around and thought ‘this area needed something like this (a pitching, hitting center). We had a pretty good base to start with because I had worked in the Halifax and Martinsville areas.
Southwest Virginia didn’t have the reputation to draw (college scouts) down here when we started. Now, we get an average of eight to 10 emails or phone calls a day about the kids we have here.”
Since that decision almost five years ago, the number of athletes taking advantage of Puryear ‘s experience has increased to “1,200 full-time students. Those are students who come at least once a month, but some come every week,” he said.
Puryear added that his hitting/pitching center also benefits local businesses, since parents often ask him “What can we do while our kids are having their lessons? We tell them about our local restaurants and other businesses, and some spend the night here.”
Puryear points out that his hitting/pitching center isn’t for those looking for a novelty night out.
“We’re not for everybody. We’re for the kids trying to take it to the next level. Some kids come in for two or three lessons before the start of the season, and they’ll be okay, but we’re all about the guys who are going to give it everything they’ve got. I can give them the tools to get to the next level, but they still have to get the tools out of the box.
Puryear said there are several axioms he uses to illustrates what it takes to become a college or professional talent. One is “Hard work will beat talent when talent hardly works,” and another is “I don’t want to know how choppy the water is, just bring the boat to the dock.”
The former, said Puryear, reinforces the ethic of hard work, while the latter tells a player not to listen to naysayers who proclaim the goal requires too much work.
“You’d be surprised how many worry about the mechanics of hitting or pitching, but not the mentality of sports. Athletes have to be mentally tough,” he said.
Sometimes it’s not just the athletes, but the parents who don’t make the connection.
“I’ll have a parent of a 10-year-old kid (pitcher) say, ‘I can’t understand why he can’t hit his spots.’ I compare baseball to golf. It’s a skill sport. If you don’t practice, you don’t get better, you regress.”
For those determined to reach their goal of playing in the college or pro ranks, Puryear has two Showcase teams, comprised of full-time students, that play in the summer and fall.
“We have an 18-and-under team and a 16-and-under team, and a 14-and-under team in the works for fall,” said Puryear, adding that the tournaments take place at “big venues,” like “the University of North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Radford, Appalachian State and South Carolina.”
“Our players compete against 40 of the best teams on the East Coast, if not in the country. We’ll have 800 of the best kids in the tournament and 20, 30 or even 40 scouts watching them. That’s when you get seen. Rather than drive five or six hours to Carroll County to watch a player, who might not even play, scouts can go to UNC and watch 800 of the best kids in the country.”
Puryear said he’s had an especially “great two weeks,” with the signing of Sons and the success of two other Martinsville athletes. One, Patrick Thompson, was selected for Under Armour National Select Team play in California in August, while Payton Monahan, an eight-year-old, will participate in a national all-star game prior to the Major League All-Star game in Kansas City, Mo.
Although the instruction of athletes keeps Puryear busy, he now has another job.
“I met a Kansas City (Royals) scout about a year ago when he stopped by to see Sons. After seeing Sons throw, he asked how would I like to work for them. So he got me in on the scouting end,” said Puryear, pointing out that hard work was the key to both Sons’ and his new vocations.
“When I started working Sons, he was throwing 83 to 84 miles per hour, but he had a strong work ethic. He made a three-hour trip each Sunday to work with me, and worked out twice a week on his own. When the Kansas City scout saw him, he was throwing 90 to 92 mph. That goes back to the work ethic – he stuck with it.”
And thanks to the two men’s work ethic, Sons now has a chance to fulfill a dream, and Puryear has made it to the major leagues.