The Junction City Brigade trailed the Midwest A’s by a score of 3-2 in the fifth inning of a semifinals eliminaton game of the Mid-Plains League playoffs Sunday at Rathert Stadium. With the bases loaded, freshman pitcher, and Junction City native, Charlie Peyla stepped up to bat. In one of the biggest games of the Brigade’s season thus far, Peyla smashed a grand slam to give his team a 6-3 lead, and an eventual win.
“That grand slam on Sunday night. It’s still sticking with me. It honestly might have been one of the coolest things I’ve done. Just being in front of my home crowd. I just got that pitch, hit it, and I instantly knew it was gone off the bat. It felt amazing just to have my team there with me, the fans cheering. Just to get a chance to make it back to the championship. It felt good,” Peyla said.
That home run continued a hot streak for Peyla at Rathert Stadium. It marked his fourth at home since July 6. Some of Peyla’s teammates have been impressed with the way he has been closing his first season with the team.
“For an incoming freshman, he’s having a great intro to college ball. Hopefully he takes this summer as a learning curve and becomes an all around better player when he goes into college,” Brigade senior outfielder Cole Brecheisen said.
Sophomore utility player Colin Chandler noted that he hadn’t really seen a player close a season the way Peyla has.
Brigade head coach Seth Wheeler has also been impressed with the way Peyla has been closing the season.
“Every year at the Brigade we’ve had a Player of the Year. We might have a Player of the Year. Whether it’s Charlie or (freshman catcher) Andrew Morrow. I think both have an opportunity to win that award,” Wheeler said.
Peyla noted how special playing for the Brigade this summer has been for him.
“When I was younger, I used to look up to (Brigade players). I used to honestly think that they were a semi-pro team. I didn’t know it was a college team. Getting to play for them has been a lot of fun. It’s really cool to see kids in my shoes looking up to us. It’s really cool to be the guy that (kids) look up to,” Peyla said.
Peyla has been one of the Brigade’s biggest stars this summer. While Peyla is listed as a pitcher on the Brigade’s roster, he has primarily played shortstop in his first season with the Brigade. Chandler, who primarily plays next to him most nights as the Brigade’s third baseman, described what it is like to watch him work in the field.
“It’s great. He does work. He has a really good arm. He’s pretty solid defensively. It’s been fun to see him grow,” Chandler said.
According to Wheeler, Peyla’s defensive prowess at Rathert Stadium has been particularly impressive, considering the reputation the field has for creating hard-to-handle bounces on ground balls.
“I’ve never seen anybody look comfortable on this field. After playing on it for four years, he kind of knew it,” Wheeler said.
Those four years of comfort playing at Rathert Stadium came from Peyla’s time as a member of the Junction City Blue Jays baseball team.
“I’ve been playing on that field since I was a freshman. I’m used to the bad hops and all that. It’s been a nice field to me,” Peyla said.
Peyla’s coach at Junction City High School, Drew Biery, credited Peyla’s skill set to his strengths on the field at Rathert.
“You could say he’s used to the field, but I also think it goes to his skill set. He’s very good at what he does. He puts himself in good situations to be able to catch the ground balls. To avoid the Rathert hops, you’ve got to be sure you have the good footwork and you’ve got good hands. That’s exactly what Charlie has. That comfortability (at Rathert) also goes along with the talent and the skills that he’s been able to create over the past four years in high school,” Biery said.
Peyla’s teammates and head coaches have been surprised at how good Peyla has been against college competition this early in his career.
“I had no idea how good he could be,” Brecheisen said. “Coming in, we didn’t really hear much about him. I just knew he was a good kid. Everyone was kind of quiet about him.”
Chandler echoed Brecheisen’s surprise.
“Coming out of high school, you think you’re pretty good, and then you get up to a bunch of college players and might get a little overwhelmed. I really think Charlie has fit in well with the Brigade this year. I think he’s going to be a great college player if he sticks at it. I definitely didn’t see this coming, but I’m glad he turned it on,” Chandler said.
Eric Horner, who will be Peyla’s assistant coach for his freshman season at Johnson County Community College, has been keeping a close eye on how Peyla has performed this summer.
“We’re getting very excited with what he’s doing against college competition. A lot of times the biggest adjustment for high school kids is the fast pace of play and obviously when you get to college, a lot of the high school guys kind of struggle with the face pace. We’re really excited to see what he’s doing against college guys. He’s kind of getting a leg up on other guys, since he’s been (going against college competition) all summer,” Horner said.
Biery noted that he had a feeling that Peyla was going to excel against college competition.
“When you have special guys, you know it. Charlie’s one of those special guys. I had a good idea that he was going to have success. To have it this early in his career, especially against college players this summer, doesn’t really surprise me. I knew he was a really good player. Then again, it is very impressive what he’s been doing,” Biery said.
But this success isn’t a surprise to Peyla, who has been building to it his whole life.
“(My love of baseball) probably happened when I was three or four years old. For Christmas, I’d always ask for basketballs, footballs, baseballs, or anything with sports. Playing catch with my dad in the front yard, that was a big factor. The countless hours that he spent working on baseball with me is probably what really got me where I am today. I can’t thank him enough for that. I was good at it, and just kind of stuck with it,” Peyla said.
But playing baseball at Junction City almost didn’t happen.
“There was a time where my family thought about moving to Manhattan, because my sister was going to K-State. We’re from Junction (City). My mom’s from Junction. So I knew that I was probably going to play baseball at Junction,” Peyla said.
After high school, Peyla knew he wanted a shot to wear the orange and black of the Brigade.
“I had contact with Seth (Wheeler) during my high school career. He was recruiting me at one point to go to Emporia State. When I finally did sign with Johnson (County Community College), I talked to him. I was like ‘is there any way I could play for the Brigade. It’d be nice to be able to stay at home and not really have to worry about traveling every weekend playing travel ball.’ He said he thought he could make it happen. He made it happen. It’s been really fun playing for him,” Peyla said.
Wheeler is glad he was able to make Peyla’s Brigade dream come true.
“When we were recruiting him, it was as a pitcher. That was what I had seen him do. That’s what I had heard more about him as. He had an arm that could put up gaudy numbers on a radar. He could throw 88, or 90, miles-an-hour at times. That was kind of the expectation. I was expecting him to contribute a lot more as a pitcher than as a postion player (with the Brigade). When we put him out at short, he’s been more than advertised at shortstop. He’s been able to contribute a bit on the mound as well. He’s been more than expected offensively and defensively. He’s just what I expected him to be on the mound as well,” Wheeler said.
Peyla’s extensive talent opens a lot of possibilities for his future at short or on the mound.
“I think he has a ton to offer at both positions. He’s low-90s with his fastball. He’s got a pretty good breaking ball on the mound. Then again, you look at him and he’s got a big frame. He’s able to move left and right. He’s got a great arm from short. He’s smooth from short. If I’m Johnson County, I’m licking my chops at seeing a guy like Charlie Peyla coming in, because he offers so much. He puts so much on the table that he can really help them have success quickly,” Biery said.
Peyla’s future coaches at Johnson County Community College already have some plans on what position they see Peyla playing in college.
“Kind of the way we recruit is we recruit some of the most athletic kids that we can. We have a lot of opportunities on where we can play (Peyla). We’ll probably move him to a third base, second base type. We would also let him pitch in kind of a back-end, closer role,” Horner said.
Now Peyla is looking ahead to Thursday night as the Brigade open the Cowdin Cup Championship on the road against the Topeka Golden Giants.
“They’re a good team. They obviously deserve to be in the championship. I think if we play the way we can, we can definitely beat them. We’ve showed that we can beat them before. We’ve just got to play good and see what happens,” Peyla said.