In a way, Leyton Pinckney has already lived the dream of every kid who has ever played Little League baseball.
“We made it to the Southeast Regional Championship, so I got to play two games on ESPN as a 12-year-old kid,” says Pinckney, a Houston Cougars signee headed to Houston this fall. “We were one game short of going to the Little League World Series, we lost 1-0 in the championship game, so I missed out on the World Series. But that summer was one of the greatest baseball summers of my life because I was just hanging out with all those guys for the entire summer, getting to miss school for a couple weeks, just getting to get to play baseball as a 12-year-old kid just loving the game and nothing else mattered except just enjoying playing baseball.”
Leyton grew up in Kathleen, Georgia, and started playing baseball when he was six years old. He attended Veterans High School in Kathleen and under head baseball coach David Coffey, Pinckney lettered in baseball for four years. In his senior year, he earned 5A All-State First Team honors for his play with the Warhawks. Almost as an afterthought, Pinckney was a three-year letter winner, at quarterback.
After high school, Leyton chose to stay in his home state and attend Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, a highly respected Division I baseball program. Pinckney played in 37 games during his freshman season, serving as the team’s backup catcher while compiling a .979 fielding percentage.
But Leyton knew he wanted to play at a bigger program, so he transferred to Northwest Florida State in Niceville, Florida with the hopes of being seen and recruited by a bigger program. The Raiders of Northwest Florida State entered the 2020 season ranked eighth nationally among junior college teams. In 14 games at backstop, Pinckney amassed a 1.000 fielding percentage and also batted .310 along the way, including three multi-hit games in his final six games of the season. The Raiders did a lot of winning and were ranked as high as number two and three in the final season rankings when the dust settled on the abbreviated 2020 season.
But Pinckney’s decision to transfer from Mercer in anticipation of going to a bigger program paid off. Leyton was talking with many Power 5 Conference schools and the University of Houston was always in the mix because of the recruiting channel with the Cougars coaching staff and the culture they have created at UH.
Pinckney sees great things happening at Houston and wanted to be a part of it. He sees potential and opportunity, but he brings a winning, competitive attitude to the table as well. He says Houston told him, “the opportunity to play is there.” Leyton says, “but that’s up to me, how I play, how I can perform. I just want to go in there and compete and try to win a job.”
Leyton started catching at 14, but it was not until a full-time position for him until he was about 15 in the 9th grade. He still remembers the first time his coach asked, “who wants to catch?” Pinckney replied, “I’ll try it.” And life has not been the same since. “I’m involved in every single pitch,” he says. “As a catcher, you’re involved in every single pitch and every single play and it really makes the game a lot more fun and interesting.”
Back home in Georgia, Leyton just finished his spring semester via online classes and completed his Associate of Arts degree at the same time. His baseball routine is pretty steady right now, there is a local baseball facility where he’s able to meet up almost every morning with a coach and former Florida State baseball player who throws to him and runs him through some catching drills. Pinckney admits it is nowhere near as good as live-action, but it is good for right now.
Pinckney is planning to play in the Florida Gulf Coast League this summer, which should start around June 15. The Florida League is made up exclusively of college players. Leyton hopes to get in a month of action before heading to Houston for the fall. He is not alone in wanting to arrive on campus in the fall without having played any real baseball for several months. That is the plan for now, but as we all know, things can change and nothing is written in stone. “Houston is getting a team leader,” says Northwest Florida State head coach Doug Martin. “The pitching staff at Houston will really enjoy throwing to Leyton.”
Leyton is looking forward to getting to Houston while keeping an attentive eye on his daily work and preparation, and hopefully the Florida Gulf Coast League in June and July, “I can’t wait to get in there and get to work. I’m excited to go in there and compete and try to make the team better.” –