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Young gum: Fueled by Hubba Bubba, Logan Aylor was Liberty baseball’s ace pitcher

Sunday, Jun. 29 | By Jeff Malmgren
Liberty senior pitcher Logan Aylor posted a 2-4 record despite a 2.26 ERA in nine starts. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Logan Aylor’s baseball superstition has a bit more merit than most.

He chews gum.

Granted, that sounds as frivolous as wearing lucky underwear or unwashed socks. It has a practical purpose, though, and helped Aylor keep his career ERA at 2.94 over three seasons while amassing a 13-6 record as a Liberty High pitcher.

Prior to every pitching start as a junior and senior, Aylor drove to a nearby gas station in Bealeton and made two purchases. He bought a bottle of Glaceau Smartwater and a package of Hubba Bubba gum. Then he consumed both over the course of a game.

“I think I have a gum addiction,” the recent graduate said. “I always love chewing it. It kind of calms me down.”

It also aids his grip on the ball, at least in theory.

Like many pitchers, Aylor licked his fingers prior to each pitch so he could improve his grasp on the ball and control it better. The sugary gum in his mouth may have added some extra stick to that grip.

“I like to think it gives me a little more,” Aylor said.

Accuracy and grip are important for Aylor because he doesn’t have an Arnoldis Chapman fastball. Aylor’s arm tops out at 86 mph and he throws 83 mph consistently.

So he focuses on throwing strikes with his fastball to minimize walks. Then he uses a mix of off-speed pitches to keep batters guessing.

“He's not overpowering,” Eagles coach Jeff Crane said. “He’s not going to blow it by anybody, so you've got to depend on your deception to get outs.”

Regardless, Aylor amassed 94 strikeouts over 122.1 career innings pitched, including 38 strikeouts as a junior.

“When you don't throw 90-plus, you've got to be able to pitch,” Crane said. “Locate your spots and change your speeds and throw strikes.”

Aylor considers a two-seam fastball his best pitch. He also uses a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and, occasionally, change-up.

"I didn't always go to my change because I felt if you’re slowing it down, a high school hitter could really tee off," said Aylor, who will play at Christopher Newport University next season. "But in college, I’m sure I'll use it more."

Aylor, a Culpeper resident, served as the Eagles’ starting first baseman when he wasn't pitching as senior. He plans, however, to do all his work on the mound for the Captains.

“What I love about pitching is you're in control of the game," Aylor said. "What you do with one pitch could change the outcome. … I don't like standing around and not doing anything"

Passion passed down

Tom Aylor immersed his son in baseball at a young age.

Wherever they traveled, he brought a baseball and pair of gloves. So Logan Aylor played catch with his father at the beach, while camping, and so on.

“I really started to like it,” said Aylor, who began throwing at age three.

He eventually settled into the role of pitcher on his travel team. Then in high school he played some shortstop, second base, outfield and first base, but remained most valuable as a pitcher.

“It became my favorite position,” he said. “I never threw really hard, but I was accurate and it felt like the perfect position for me.”

Aylor began pitching for Liberty's varsity as a sophomore. He immediately became one of the Eagles' top pitchers and eventually shared the No. 1 starter spot with Andrew Summers as a junior.

"His junior year he kept us in a lot of ball games," Crane said.

Aylor went 7-1 in nine starts that season and posted a 2.60 ERA. Riding his arm, Liberty won the Evergreen District regular season and tournament championships.

The Eagles didn't have nearly as much success this past season, finishing with a 4-13 record after losing most of their best hitters to graduation. Aylor went 2-4 as Liberty’s ace pitcher after Summers graduated.

“This year I felt more pressure,” Aylor said. “But I didn't mind it. I like that I was going up against the [opponents’] best pitchers. It was more of a challenge."

Aylor will surely match up against even better pitchers next season with Christopher Newport.

He has spent significant time at CNU because his sister, Tess, is a rising senior at the school in Newport News. That played a role in his decision to attend CNU instead of more than a half dozen other schools. He plans to major in business.

“They have a wonderful campus, great academics and a great baseball program,” Aylor said. “The coaches expressed a lot of interest in me. They said I'd have a lot of chances to pitch.”

End of an ERA

Logan Aylor suffered from Jeff Samardzija Disorder as a senior.

He had an enviable 2.26 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, but finished with only two wins in nine starts. Similarly, earlier this MLB season, Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs went winless in 10 starts despite leading the majors in ERA.

Aylor had a little better luck than Samardzija, but his Eagles still lost a lot of games in which he pitched well. Against Chancellor, for example, Liberty lost a May 12 game, 1-0. Aylor pitched a complete game, but he didn't get the win.

"We couldn't score enough runs," he said. "It kind of summed up the season."

The Eagles averaged 4.9 runs per game, but they scored nearly 45 percent of their runs during their first three games. During Liberty’s final 14 contests, it scored only 3.3 runs per game.

“It was definitely tough because I felt like we were playing well enough to win,” Aylor said. “We kind of lacked that experience when it came down to crucial times in the game.”

The Eagles suffered a 10-game losing streak after beginning the season on a 3-0 run.

“We were hitting the crap out of the ball,” Aylor said of those first three games. “I think we just started to see everybody’s ace pitcher.

“But I felt like we kept every game close and that's all I tried to do – give us a chance to win,” he said.

By comparison, during Aylor’s junior season, the Eagles scored 7.7 runs per game en route to a 15-5 record.

“Unfortunately, we didn't have the offense we had last year and we didn't generate the runs,” Crane said. “His ERA was where a lot of coaches would love to have it. But … our offense didn't support him.”

Aylor actually turned into one of Liberty’s better hitters this past season after he struggled as a sophomore and junior. He finished with a .321 batting average and .785 OPS with six doubles. He also scored 11 runs while often hitting in the No. 2 or 3 spot of Liberty’s order.

Aylor hit .244 as a junior and .216 as a sophomore, producing only one extra-base hit over those two seasons. Then, in an effort to improve at the plate, he attended a handful of hitting camps during the summer prior to his senior season.

“I wanted to prove myself as a hitter,” he said. “I just got more confidence in my swing. I started to read the pitcher a little better. I wasn't swinging at curveballs in the dirt.”

Many opposing batters never found the same discipline against Aylor.

- - - - -

The Logan Aylor File

Family: Father Tom is a contractor and owns a lawn mowing business. Mother Susan is a teacher at Grace Miller Elementary School. Sister, Tess, 20, is a rising senior at Christopher Newport University.

Favorite place: “Liberty's baseball field. I always feel kind of calm and relaxed there.”

Favorite baseball situation: “I love when runners get on first and get a really big lead. They think they can get a good jump off me and I end up picking them off. They go back to the dugout pretty mad, and I like watching them get mad."

Favorite athlete: New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. “But I really liked Mariano Rivera.”

Favorite team: Washington Nationals. He’s a converted New York Yankees fan who used to watch them play when they visited the Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore. The Nationals’ “opening season in third grade – everyone was so excited Washington finally had a baseball team. I liked being able to go to the games and finally be able to root for the home team.”

Favorite music artist/song: Jason Aldean/”My Kinda Party.” “He puts on great concerts and his country is kind of more rock-and-roll and up-beat.”

Favorite restaurant: Blue Ridge Seafood. “I love seafood and they have the best crab legs I think I’ve ever had.”

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