It’s 2018 and Eastern Michigan baseball coach Eric Roof is watching a baserunning drill at a showcase in Cincinnati.
He’s specifically watching Paxton Kling, some kid out of Central High School in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, sprint through the entire drill.
“Sometimes after practice, guys would rather hit than do baserunning, but Paxton was treating it like it was Game 7 of the World Series,” Roof said.
The showcase welcomed coaches from mid-major programs like Toledo, Wright State and Indiana State, and as Roof looked down at his packet of players’ names, he realized that Kling, the best player of there, was a freshman.
“He would’ve been a guy we would’ve gone after if he was a 2019 grad at that time,” Roof said. “But every coach there was like, ‘I think he may be too good for us.’”
So Roof called his old teammate, then-LSU assistant Nolan Cain, whom he had played with for the Detroit Tigers organization, and suggested Cain give Kling a look.
But that’s the story about how Kling almost made it to LSU.
He went on two visits, loved it and verbally committed to LSU. Until the coaching change. Kling pulled back on that commitment when Paul Mainieri retired and Cain went to Texas A&M, unsure of who new LSU coach Jay Johnson was.
It was now Johnson’s job to win him back.
“I’ll be honest, I was pissed at first, and I was like, ‘Alright man, you’re messing this up,’ and then sat there for about 15 minutes in my hotel room, picked up the phone and called him back, and I said, ‘Hey, I get it, you want me to re-recruit you. Let’s start over,’” Johnson said.
Now Kling is starting in right field as a freshman for LSU. He’s batting .425 from the leadoff position with an .825 slugging percentage. Through a six-day span of three games, Kling hit his first, second and third home runs. He’s been likened to a young Dylan Crews in the field — except with a little more speed.
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