Justin Padden admits he was an unlikely candidate to continue playing baseball beyond high school.
“I thought, well, it would be great to do but didn’t think I could get in anywhere,” the Freeman High graduate said. “I thought my career had ended.”
Today, Padden is in Texas, a freshman member of the baseball team at the University of Dallas, a NCAA Division III school.
The university, in Irving, has an enrollment of 1,200 students, offers no scholarships and is expensive to attend. It requires an SAT score of 1,100 for admission.
Padden, one of 30 players who will make up the school’s first team, found himself in the right place at the right time. The Catholic school is reviving baseball after a 17-year hiatus.
“As a left-handed player with that much heart, Justin was a natural connection for us,” said Crusaders coach James Vilade. “I’m impressed with him as a person. We intend to have Justin be a part of the program.”
A player of modest ability, he was shy to the point of introversion in ninth grade. Padden said he had felt fortunate just to make Freeman’s freshman team four years ago.
“I didn’t have a lot of talent,” Padden said.
His great-grandfather Brain Padden was a major league player and baseball scout around the turn of the century.
Justin’s intellect enabled him to improve as a player.
“I preach to kids from kindergarten through tryout camp that the most important part of a player is the brain,” said Freeman schools Superintendent Harry Amend, who coached Padden in Legion ball. “He was a thinker and loved the game.”
Educated at St. Mary’s School, Justin went to Freeman at the behest of his father, District Court Judge Mike Padden, the former 4th District legislator.
“I didn’t want to go there to begin with,” said Justin. “I wanted to go to Gonzaga Prep with all my friends.”
But he also understands that Freeman was his best bet to play high school baseball.
“I don’t think I would have had a chance at Prep or Central Valley (his attendance area),” he said, “and would have been stuck on jayvee.”
Amend remembers Justin at school, a Notre Dame cap with the bill coned up pulled tightly on his head. Within a couple of days, classmates nicknamed him “Lou” after Irish football coach Lou Holtz. The name stuck.
Baseball, said Amend, brought him out of his shell. During Legion trips, Padden became a proficient poker player. At a tournament game in Lewiston, Amend put his outfielder-first baseman on the mound for the first time.
“I was wondering if he could get the ball to the plate,” said Justin’s worried dad. Justin wondered, too.”After Harry had me pitch,” he said, “it seemed to me he thought I could be good. It went from there.”
Never an overpowering pitcher, Padden improved as he grew to his present 5-foot-10, 155-pound size.
“You could literally catch him with Kleenex,” said Amend. “Each year he’s thrown with a little more velocity and bite on his curve.”
It’s allowed Padden an opportunity to continue his career when others more talented have seen theirs end.
“He’s gone from a freshman scared to death, who didn’t think he could cross a chalk line in Lewiston, to a guy playing college baseball,” said Amend.
Added Vilade, “If you want something, you’ll find a way to get it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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