By Mandy Bell, GoPSUSports.com student feature writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - The first year on a collegiate baseball team is often difficult for any freshman. It's a new field, new coach and new teammates. When given an in-game opportunity, it's easy for any first-year student-athlete to pressure himself to prove his worth to his team and coach, but for freshman Braxton Giavedoni, he thrives in the spotlight.
"I just have confidence," Giavedoni said. "I have confidence in my ability. My dad always preached to have confidence and with confidence, I just feel like I can achieve anything."
Sunday evening, Giavedoni was in a situation that nearly every young baseball player envisions in the back yard with a wiffle bat in his hands. It was the bottom of the ninth, one out, bases loaded with the game tied at one. Giavedoni was ready for the first pitch fastball and drove it into left field to win the game.
The freshman has been one of the team's most consistent hitters all season. With appearances in 33 of the 39 games so far, he has batted .274 with 12 RBIs, leading the team in doubles (8) and launching three home runs.
Not only is Giavedoni a newcomer who plays like a veteran, but he is also a walk-on who did not officially make the team until the fall 2016 semester began.
"I think he is an example of college baseball because you're only allowed a certain number of scholarships," Penn State head coach Rob Cooper said. "On a roster of 35, which is what we have, only 27 of them can be on scholarship. So, you're going to have eight kids who are walk-on kids and you've got to find a walk-on or two that will help you win games. That's why when we make our lineups we don't make them based on scholarship money."
Although Giavedoni has worked to be a member of this team, the freshman did not always know he wanted to play baseball in college. Growing up, he never even thought of playing sports after high school until he realized how much he loved football.
"It's definitely harder to prove yourself as a walk-on," Giavedoni said. "But the guys and coaches still treat me the same. I just have to go out there and do what everyone else does and I am fine as long as I play my game."
Giavedoni played two years of high school football and set the school's single-season records for touchdown receptions and total receiving yards. Just when his passion for football escalated, Giavedoni suffered a hip injury and a few concussions that pushed him to focus more on baseball than football.
While he may not have known he wanted to play a sport in college until later in life, he knew from the time he was five years old that he was going to be a Nittany Lion. With his mother, two uncles and aunt all Penn State graduates, he visited campus all throughout his childhood. Giavedoni knew he wanted to carry on the Nittany Lion legacy.
No matter how many times one visits a campus, it can be a struggle adjusting to a new home and meeting new people as a freshman. Giavedoni already had a familiar face on his baseball team though, as he and catcher Ryan Sloniger grew up playing youth baseball together all the way through high school.
Now, the two are both back together at Penn State.
"It was nice having Sloniger here because he could show me around places," Giavedoni said. "[Sloniger] always offered to give me rides and go get food and he introduced me to the guys, so that was definitely really nice."
Now, the walk-on freshman who was projected to be the fifth-best outfielder for Penn State heading into the season is now a starting right-fielder batting in the top half of the lineup.
"I mean I did know deep down inside of me that I could be a cleanup hitter on a division one baseball team," Giavedoni said. "I knew how good of a player I was. I didn't know that as a freshman I would have made this much of an impact, but as I went on I thought I would make a big impact on the program. ""He's done a great job," Cooper said. "He has zero fear. He's not worried about what other people are thinking about, he just loves to play baseball. I think when you have that underlying theme of 'I love to play baseball,' then good things could happen."