Freshman right fielder Paxton Kling went from a small-town slugging hero to one of college baseball’s rising stars in Louisiana’s capital city.
Kling has been a revelation on LSU’s star-studded batting lineup. Kling is second on the team in batting average with .428 and has recorded three doubles, two triples and three home runs. Kling also has recorded seven RBIs and a slugging percentage of .825.
However, when the season started, Kling struggled as he batted .133 at the plate through the first nine games of the year. Due to his struggles, he was replaced by senior Brayden Jobert. Even with his struggles, LSU head coach Jay Johnson stuck with him and was brought back into the lineup after he worked on some of his mechanics.
On March 4 against Central Connecticut, Kling finally found his stride. Kling went 3-for-4 at the plate and he recorded an RBI triple in the Tigers’ 26-4 win over the Blue Devils.
Ever since that performance, Kling has been the best batter on the team not named Dylan Crews. Kling has batted .600 from the plate along with three home runs, a triple and six RBIs. Moreover, Johnson selected him to be the leadoff man for LSU.
“He’s talented, it was just going to be a matter of time,” Johnson said after Kling’s breakout game against Central Connecticut. “He’s just one of those guys who will be the best player in the program at some point.”
Kling hails from Roaring Spring, Pa., a small town that is about two hours from Pittsburgh. Roaring Springs is located in the Altoona Valley, where mountains and cornfields are visible. Roaring Spring also has a sizable Amish population. However, don’t let the town’s small size fool you as it hosts a giant baseball powerhouse.
Central High School, a small high school that graduates 130-140 students a year, has been one of the most successful baseball programs in the history of Pennsylvania high school baseball. The Dragons have won six state titles since 1977, with its most recent coming last season when Kling was its star player.
Roaring Spring had an undying love for their Central Dragons similar to the way Baton Rouge shows theirs for LSU baseball.
”Thankfully, the community back home was very good with us with baseball,” Kling said. “A lot of people showed up to our games and we would get a little bit of a crowd. At our state championship game at Penn State, the stadium was packed with red.”
Kling helped lead the Dragons to an undefeated 27-0 record. Central won its games by an average of 11 games 23 of the Dragons’ victories was by mercy rule. Kling batted .566 at the plate and recorded 10 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 33 RBIs.
Kling first committed to LSU when Paul Manieri was the head coach of the Tigers. However, when Manieri retired and Johnson took over, Kling decommitted. Kling was then getting recruited to SEC rivals Texas A&M due to former LSU assistant coach Nolan Cain recruiting him to College Station.
“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.
Johnson did just that. Johnson made sure Kling felt like he was not only wanted but needed at LSU as he went to San Diego to watch Kling play in a tournament, had Kling come visit LSU once again and even flew to Pennsylvania for an in-house visit. To even get to the small town of Roaring Spring, Johnson had to fly into Pittsburgh and then hop into a rental car to drive two hours to get there.
To the surprise of Kling’s family, Johnson dressed like he was going to a business dinner rather than a regular meet-and-greet for the recruit’s family as he was wearing a suit and tie rather than the generic LSU polo and khakis.
“It was funny because we were just wearing regular sweatpants,” Kling said.
You could say that Johnson was going over the top. However, this is exactly what Kling wanted Johnson to do. Kling wanted to test Johnson to see if he wanted him to wear purple and gold. Once Kling knew how badly Johnson wanted him, he committed once again to LSU and closed his recruiting.
“It was more difficult to know that I was done talking to Nolan (Cain) than actually saying I wasn’t going to Texas A&M, because I was so comfortable with coming here,” Kling said. “I wanted to come to LSU and play for coach Johnson because he’s a great coach.”