If you want to know why Peyton Padjen strolled to the plate against Lincoln-Way North on April 6 oblivious to the blood pouring from the little finger on his left hand, blame his cousin.
Cole Kapovich is tough enough now to be a member of Adrian College's NCAA Division III national hockey champions. Back when Padjen, now a senior at T.F. South, was in grade school, Kapovich instilled a bit of that toughness in his younger cousin.
"My cousin's four years older than than I am," Padjen said. "I always wanted to do what they were doing. They used to say if I got hurt and cried, I had to go home, so I guess that toughened me up."
Cut to April 6. The Rebels were at Lincoln-Way North, and Padjen was on the on-deck circle when North's catcher moved toward him to back up a play.
"He just kind of ran into me," Padjen said. "My hand was down, he was running with his mask in his hand. I think the mask hit me and pushed my nail up under the skin."
Padjen didn't notice. He went to bat, whereupon the home plate umpire stopped play, saying, "We have blood."
Padjen had surgery that afternoon. The doctor slid the nail up into place, sutured it to the nail bed and suggested Padjen take two weeks off.
Over the next week, Padjen, T.F. South's captain and second baseman, played five games. He'd have played again Monday against T.F. North had the weather cooperated.
"I really didn't want to sit out because of the team," he said. "I'm a captain. We were kind of struggling at that point …"
South won three of those five games to improve to 6-7 overall. Padjen is scuffling — hitting just .206 out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup — but his 11 walks, solid defense and leadership have been valued assets.
Padjen has also had to deal with recovering from July 6 surgery on his left thumb. He guessed he was about a week past thinking about his thumb when the little finger injury occurred, and has batted since with essentially a nine-fingered grip.
"It has given me some pain," Padjen said, "but lately I'm getting used to it."
T.F. South coach Matt Tiffy hasn't heard a complaint from his captain since the injury. But then, he never has.
"Performance on the field is one thing," Tiffy said, "but you also have to know how to carry yourself off of it.
"He's the No. 1 kid in the class right now. He's respected inside and outside the school.
"Everything he does, there's not one moment where I've put my head back in frustration. If we need to buckle down, he'll get after a kid — but he's out there keeping everyone loose, too."
An all-South Suburban Blue baseball player last year, and T.F. South's starting quarterback last fall, Padjen has merely extended the legacy of his surname at the Lansing school, where his uncle, Tom, has coached the football team for more than 30 years and his father, Bob, is the offensive coordinator. In every year since the series began in 1959, a Padjen has either played or coached in South's annual football battle with T.F. North.
So, it's probably no surprise that Peyton will matriculate to a university steeped in family history.
"He's going to the University of Illinois, to major in business," Bob Padjen said. "He'll be the seventh member of his family to attend U of I."
At 5-foot-7, he's far too small for Big Ten football. Nor will he attempt to walk on to the baseball team.
"It's going to be hard, especially when the fall semester comes around, not to be playing something," Peyton said. "It's unfortunate for that to come to an end — but it comes to an end for everyone at some point, whether that happens when you're 40 or when you're 18."