AYETTEVILLE — Justice Sampson knows the power that a good or bad name has.
This summer, the Lumberton High School grad had a game plan, and a lot of that plan was based on his name and what he wanted to do for it when he signed to play for the Fayetteville SwampDogs. The Pirate turned North Central Central Eagle is coming off what he said was his best year of college baseball, and now is spending his summer fine-tuning his game for the close-to-home program in the Coastal Plain League.
“I’m hoping that I can create a good name for myself playing for the Fayetteville SwampDogs and maybe if I get another chance to play again here it would be great. I’m just hoping that I’ll get seen playing here and that I can put my name and Lumberton on the map,” Sampson said of his goals this summer. “I’ve been told the CPL is one of the top leagues so hopefully scouts will come out and I’ll get noticed. That’s a big experience.”
Making a name for himself is Sampson’s plan all because of something he learned at a young age.
“My Grandpa has always told me to carry a good name because it will go a long way,” he said. “So I want to carry a good name, whether it’s baseball or life in general.”
Sampson graduated from Lumberton in 2014, signed to play for North Carolina Central before graduation and, for the first time since his final high school game, he’s felt a little bit of home in the stands.
“It obviously makes me feel at home and it’s an opportunity to play in front of people that know my name, know my last name. It helps that my family are able to come watch me play,” he said. “A lot of games up in school ball they don’t get to come out as much as they can now. It’s a good opportunity for letting fans know who I am, and trying to get my name out there from Lumberton.”
After suffering a shoulder injury midway through his first year, Sampson sat out the following summer, and he rested the summer after his first full seasons last year under coach’s orders after tossing 31 innings. The chemistry that was forged in a short time with his new teammates in his first summer of baseball is something that Sampson has embraced.
“Once I got here, I met my teammates I adjusted well,” he said. “They’re really good to adjust with and really great friends. Being around them every day, they’re like brothers. Like you’ve known them for a long time.”
Now a rising junior at North Carolina Central, Sampson is trying to carry the momentum from this year into his first summer of playing summer wood bat baseball. For the Eagles this year, he made 23 appearances out of the bullpen and notched a 4.05 ERA in 26.2 innings of work. He fanned 33 batters and allowed 29 hits as well. Central went 22-28 this year and Sampson earned MEAC all-academic team honors.
Joining Sampson this summer in Fayetteville is another Eagle reliever Jake McCort. Sampson said that he and McCort are close and is glad to see a familiar face on the roster.
Sampson remembered growing up coming to games at J.P. Riddle Stadium to see the SwampDogs play, being the closest summer baseball team around, but it wasn’t until he stepped on the field he realized how big the atmosphere that surround the games was.
“I didn’t understand how big it was until I actually started playing here and seeing all the fans,” he said. “It’s a good environment. There’s a lot of fans out here and the fan base is really big.”
As of Sunday for the SwampDogs, Sampson is 2-1 with three saves and a 1.20 ERA in 13 appearances spanning over 15 innings. Opponents have a .197 batting average against the lefty with 12 hits; he has struck out 18 and walked five.
Those numbers are among the best in the Fayetteville pen, making Sampson one of the more reliable names coach Matt Hollod will call on when it’s time to get a starter some relief.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.