1A year ago, Walsh was battling one of his roughest stretches of a complicated and trying life. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Lowell by his single mother along with his cousin, Walsh grew up without a male role model and no routine to follow. He was on his own a lot and followed a "bad path" in the street life. After bouncing around over several destinations, including Hawaii for a stretch, Walsh wound up back in the Triton School District to start his junior year.
But battling drug addiction, depression and anger issues mostly related to feelings of lack of trust and being unwanted at home, Walsh's life was starting to completely unravel. In the past, baseball coaches looked at Walsh's natural ability on the diamond — a fire-baller on the mound, a terrific infielder and a solid batter at the plate — and ignored the off-the-field issues that were derailing his life.
That's when Padovani — someone built on the hard-nose and demanding principles of his Northeastern coach Neil McPhee — stepped in and gave Walsh the harsh truth: If he couldn't get his life in gear off the field, there would be no place for him on it.
"Bryan and I butted heads a lot last year," said Padovani of the kid he believes has the greatest genuine love for the game of any ballplayer he has ever coached. "We laughed together, we cried together, we yelled at each other, but in the end I told Bryan if you are going to be on drugs and acting like a punk, then there is no room for you here playing for me.
"I think one of the biggest steps Bryan took was admitting he had a drug issue," said Padovani, who now often finds himself talking about Bryan to the Red Sox players he sees on a daily basis at his other job as a bullpen and maintenance crew member at Fenway. "He was always in denial with it saying, 'I don't need help.' Last year when he told me he was giving in and getting help, to be honest, I started crying because I knew it was a major step for him."
Spending four months in rehab last summer in Springfield, Walsh began the lengthy process to learn to cope with those emotional issues that were the source of his problems. Despite a few bumps in the road, being the fighter he is, Walsh has come back a changed student, a better person and the same "ultimate competitor" on the ball field, according to Padovani.
"(In the past) if something was going on at the house with family members, I would just try to use the drugs to cope with those feelings," Walsh said. "This past summer was a big learning experience mainly by myself learning how to control my problems.
"It was time to work on getting back on track, and not only being sober, but back at home with the family and school," Walsh continued. "I learned to find something else to replace the feelings I needed to use the drugs, and replace it with something that was healthy and good. That was one of the best things for me, learning to cope with my emotions."
The day he came back was one Padovani will never forget.
"When he first came back, he gave me a big hug. I still remember to this day, and he said, 'Coach, the person that was toughest on me in the end, I realized was pretty much the person that cared for me the most, and that was you,'" Padovani recalled. "It was nice to hear because that's the true reason why we all coach. It's not just winning games on the field, it's helping a kid like that who is really in desperate need of help."
With a second chance, something Walsh knows is invaluable, baseball has turned out to be a big part of that rebuilding process. He now lives with Triton co-captain Sam Ferrara's family, shares a great relationship with catcher and co-captain Andrew Fecteau on the mound, and is tremendously respected by all his teammates as evidenced by the way people like Triton's third co-captain Mike Cerbone speak with such admiration of what he's conquered.
"Baseball is my life right now. Baseball is what keeps me in line," Walsh said. "If it wasn't for baseball, I would be out there doing who knows what. When I'm out there throwing to the catcher, that's all I'm thinking about, and it's a certain high that's better than any drug.
"I have a great coach. I don't even think of him as a coach, I think of him as a family member to me," said Walsh. "It's funny because we've been through a lot, just to look back and see where I'm at is pretty special to me."
But, again, it's not just on the ball field that Walsh is rebuilding his life. According to Padovani, Assistant Principal Scott Brennan had Walsh give speeches to fellow students dealing with drug issues about his own experiences and how he has dealt with them. And on a daily basis, Padovani and Walsh often talk about what it will take for him to be a good dad, husband and person down the road.
"He's really opened my eyes in terms of a new view on life, he's a remarkable kid," Padovani said. "I tell him all the time he's been dealt a real tough hand in life. There's an old saying, 'Life gives you lemons, make lemonade,' and he's certainly trying to make some pretty good lemonade. He's really turned it around, a kid that if I coach 20, 30, 40 years, I'll never forget.
"He's always coming up to me asking pointers about being a good husband and being a good dad," Padovani continued. "I can tell he's dying to be a dad because he's never really had a dad in his life."
Five, 10 years down the road, Padovani believes Walsh is going to be successful. Walsh has expressed an interest to work with at-risk youth either as a counselor or a teacher. Padovani thinks that would be right up his alley.
"I'd like to come to his college graduation or his wedding, I want him to live a successful life," stated Padovani, adding Walsh would be the perfect candidate to come back and coach as well because of his passion for the game. "I think he is a kid that could teach a lot of kids — more than I ever could in terms of how to battle because of the experiences he's been through. It would be quite a story considering where he began and what he's made of himself.
"He's a great story for any kid growing up. A prime example for a kid that has battled and never given up, proving you can make something of your life even when you've battled a lot."