At the end of the high school baseball season, Nash Central coach Willie Langley was contacted by a scout from a major league baseball team.
The regional scout was following up on the recent prep season when he came across Drifton Padgett’s stolen base numbers. The Nash Central senior swiped 40 bases in 41 attempts. Padgett’s 40 steals were the second most in the state this season, and both his success rate and the volume of bags swiped attracted attention.
“(The scout) was doing his due diligence and when he came across those totals he called me to talk about Drifton,” Langley said. “... He told me that they would be checking in on him. You know, (Drifton) was thrown out on his first attempt of the season, then he wasn’t caught the rest of the year.”
Speed is a skill that Padgett has plenty of. He used it to become the Telegram’s boys’ soccer player of the year in the fall, and when that speed was mixed with smart baserunning, he seemed to be able to move up 90 feet whenever he wanted.
But it’s impossible to steal a bag without being on base. Padgett proved that was no problem, either. Padgett, the Telegram’s baseball batter of the year, had a whopping 47 hits this season to go with a .522 batting average.
Padgett also scored a team-high 44 runs, hit eight doubles, a triple and two home runs. His 25 RBIs were second to teammate Trey Whitley.
The Bulldogs’ leadoff hitter’s 47 hits tied him for third-most in the state, and he did so with 90 at-bats. Wake Forest’s Kahlil Watson led the state with 52 hits in 90 at-bats. The other player ahead of Padgett was Rosewood’s Logan Price who had 49 hits, but Price needed 14 more plate appearances than Padgett to reach that total.
“I just don’t like to get out,” Padgett said. “I run everything out because as long as you put the ball in play, something is going to happen. It could be errors, or the ball finds a way to drop and they have to make a throw. I mean, whatever it takes to get on base.”
Padgett played on varsity his freshman season and roamed the outfield. He took over shortstop his sophomore season and spent the next three seasons there. Padgett will continue his baseball career at N.C. Wesleyan playing for Greg Clifton.
In a recent interview, Padgett talks about why he doesn’t use batting gloves when hitting, his approach to batting leadoff, his favorite moment from the season and his long hair as part of the Telegram’s All-Area series.
Forty-seven hits is a bunch. Almost two a game. Have you always been a natural, contact hitter?
Well I take a lot of (batting practice) on the field and in the cage. I just don’t like to lose, and you can’t win without getting on base and scoring. I’m not a big power guy, I just more or less make contact with the ball and try to hit it into a gap.
I don’t think I’ve seen you wear batting gloves when you hit. How come?
I just like the dirt. I like to feel the grip tape on the bat. In little league I tried to use batting gloves but I couldn’t hit with them so I stopped using them.
Do you have a routine before each at-bat?
I usually go up there and wipe my hands in the dirt and draw a cross on the plate with the bat. I’ve done it since my freshman year. I guess I’m superstitious. I do the same thing every time.
What’s your approach when batting leadoff? Do you try to see a lot of pitches, or are you aggressive regardless of where you’re hitting?
It depends. The first time around I always want to watch the first pitch, but sometimes I’ll attack that first pitch. Because the first pitch of the game, he’s probably going to start you with a fastball and it’s probably going to be a strike. A pitcher doesn’t want to fall behind right away.
When you think back on the season, what are you going to remember most?
Senior night. We played SouthWest (Edgecombe) here and we were down. We went to their place earlier in the week and waxed them, but they didn’t have anything to lose and we were looking for a win to get first place in the conference. It took everyone on this team to come back and earn that win.
I can’t not ask about your hair. You’re easy to pick out because it’s so long and wavy. How long have you been working on that?
I’ve been growing it since my freshman year. I cut it every once in a while, but I like the flow. It gets hot sometimes, but I like it.
Will Stewart, Rocky Mount Academy
Isaiah Thomas, Rocky Mount Academy
Jacob Braddy, Rocky Mount Academy
Aaron Gerlach, Northern Nash
Andrew Page, Nash Central
Hunter Robinson, Nash Central
Garrett Pannell, Faith Christian
Brayden Leonard, Faith Christian
Alex Crosby, Faith Christian
AJ Jones, Southern Nash
Jason Montague, Southern Nash
Austin Luttrell, Rocky Mount High
Connor Powell, Rocky Mount High
Layton Dupree, Tarboro
Clark Dupree, Tarboro
Caleb Whitley, Tarboro