Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

34° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Brotherly love

Facing senior ace and older brother Dan for the first time, freshman Ken Padgett got plunked.

According to Dan, Ken was crowding the plate. According to Ken, the pitch was deliberate.

The younger Padgett then came to bat for the sequel and took his brother out of the park.

“Every time I’ve thrown at that kid since he was growing up, I’ve never been able to throw a ball by him,” Dan said. “He probably knew I was going to try and hump up, throw by him and make him look bad.”

But ask Northwestern coach Paul Stevens about the incident and he’ll mention Dan’s “brotherly instincts” and throw in something about a pitch right down the middle.

Ken, on the other hand, doesn’t buy the charity-act theory.

“(Dan) never wants me to win anything, especially if I’m against him,” he said. “If we were on the same team he would, but if we’re playing against each other there’s really no love lost between us.”

The brothers have been consumed by competition since playing backyard whiffleball at the age of 5. Even as teammates for a season last year, they found ways to go head-to-head. But with Dan in the San Francisco Giants’ farm system struggling to recover from a shoulder injury and Ken getting lost in a position shuffle at NU, the two have taken on the new role as each other’s sympathizers.

Before coming to NU two years ago, Ken spent the bulk of his baseball career catching – a convenient position for the younger brother of a pitcher. But the Wildcats were set behind home plate with team leader Joe Hietpas, then a junior.

Unable to play his natural position, Ken landed this year at the heart of a slightly unconventional experiment. Stevens asked NU’s catcher of the future to bide his time at short, and the results were disastrous.

Ken had trouble adjusting – he committed 14 errors and his batting average plummeted below .250.

“He just wanted to play anywhere, but then I think it got a little stressful on him,” said John Padgett, who frequently travels with his wife from his home in Littleton, Colo., to watch his sons play. “I don’t think he would ever say, ‘I don’t think I want to do this.'”

Shortly before Dan went down to Arizona for spring training, he swung through Evanston to spend some time with his brother and visit old teammates.

“We went to dinner one night and talked about everything that was going on with his team,” Dan said. “He was just laughing about playing shortstop and he was kind of in shock over the whole thing.”

The shock never wore off, and the experiment ended last week. Ken’s relief was immediately apparent – he started at third Sunday against Indiana, played solid defense and went 3-for-4.

Now Stevens expects him to play third and backup catcher, which should in turn improve his hitting.

“I just think this kid is maturing into a tremendous player,” Stevens said. “He’s just going to be outstanding, and when Joe (Hietpas) leaves, he’s definitely going to have the ability to get behind the plate and pick up where Joe left off.”

Down in Arizona, Dan is showing signs of recovering from his own setbacks.

After the Giants drafted him last spring, Dan spent the summer in class A ball with the Salem-Kaiser Volcanoes in Oregon. The shoulder pain that started in the spring sent him to the disabled list at the end of the summer.

Dan had a 23-minute surgery to clean out the shoulder during the offseason. But the Giants have held him back in an extended minor league spring training and Ken said the frustration of rehab has rattled the impatient southpaw.

“He’ll get frustrated once in a while,” Ken said. “I just kind of tell him how lucky he is. He gets a chance to keep playing, not get a real job for a couple of years.”

While he hasn’t fully recovered his velocity, Dan is throwing now without pain. And he takes solace in his brother’s reminder of his good fortune.

“This is the weirdest life I’ve ever lived,” Dan said. “Getting paid for playing baseball is really strange – having 8 million little kids coming up to you and asking for an autograph.”

His favorite part is the first baseball card, a promotion distributed by the Oregon team last summer. He collected about 80 of them to hand out to his family. His mom carries one in her wallet and his dad keeps one in the computer desk drawer.

But with the brothers pulling through their respective struggles, the sincerity and support only lasts so long before that competitive spirit emerges again.

“He’s like, ‘Oh, big man, you’ve got a baseball card,'” Dan said. “He likes to give me a hard time for all this, but maybe deep down he respects me for it.”

Ken is forthcoming with the home run story. But prod him a bit more, and he’ll tell you he has one of those 80 cards on the wall of his dorm room.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Brotherly love