Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Baseball Feature: Constructing a leader

By Andrew Bayliss

Justin Lambert gives new meaning to the term “experienced player.” As a senior pitcher for the Warhawks baseball team, Lambert definitely brings on-the-field experience to the table, but his life experiences are what truly earn the respect of his peers.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with [Justin’s] ability to lead our team from an example-only standpoint,” head coach John Vodenlich said. “Our young players listen to him, because they know he’s been through it. When he says ‘tend to your business, do the things your teachers and coaches tell you to do, they listen to him.’”

Almost a decade ago, in 2004, Lambert, who is now 28 years old, stepped onto the UW-Whitewater campus as a freshman. As a successful high school pitcher in his hometown of Mt. Horeb, Wis., Lambert was ready to display his talent at the college level. Unfortunately, a lack of discipline in school, a knack for partying too much and immaturity never allowed Lambert to see the field that year.

“I was just going out, and for the first time in my life I had no parents around forcing me to get up and go to school,” Lambert said. “It was more of a priority to go out and party with my friends than go to class.”

He had flunked out of school, thus blowing an opportunity to get an education and play college baseball. The next time Vodenlich would hear from Lambert was in 2009. Lambert had called an old teammate, senior captain Matt Millar, to ask if Millar thought Vodenlich would give him a second chance.

“I think that ultimately it came down to had I matured enough to take care of the school aspect of things,” Lambert said. “After getting kicked off the team a couple times, I had to take care of the school aspect so I wasn’t a distraction to the team.”

Within a week, Lambert called Vodenlich, who said he immediately saw how much his ex-player had matured and grown.

The first thing I noticed is that he understood I didn’t have to take him back,” Vodenlich said. “It was very clear in his words to me, begging me to take him back, that he knew he made mistakes back in ’04 and that he had thought long and hard about how to remedy that situation.”

During the five years Lambert had been away from UW-Whitewater, he worked in construction, in a factory and at other odd jobs. Eventually, he realized that working in a factory for 50 hours per week was not something he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

“I recently got promoted to first shift, which is where everyone wanted to be,” Lambert said, “but then I asked myself if that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

After returning to the Warhawks, Vodenlich said Lambert has been a perfect role model for the younger players. He has worked hard and done whatever was expected from him both on the field and in the classroom. He is now just one month away from graduation, nearly a decade after first becoming a student at UW-Whitewater.

“Justin realized that he didn’t want to work in construction for the rest of his life, so he came back to school,” Vodenlich said. “For him, it wasn’t about finding a more lucrative profession, but one he would be able to enjoy for a long time to come.”

Justin’s success is, of course, due to his own perseverance, but the culture of the Warhawks baseball program has been helpful. This year alone, five of the nine seniors on the team received the Chancellor’s Scholar-Athlete Award, recognizing their achievements in the classroom and community, as well as on the field.

“Nationally, baseball has taken a lot of heat because of the amount of classtime the players miss,” Vodenlich said. “Baseball players have a reputation for being horrible students.”

At UW-Whitewater, the team is proving to be the exception to the rule. Senior infielder Steve Bartlein said the Warhawks players’ commitment is what separates them from the average team.

“I think it’s a vision of something more than baseball,” Bartlein said. “If you talk to the guys on the team, they all have a purpose and a goal of where they want to be in a couple years. Having that future goal drives a lot of guys.”

On the field, Lambert and his senior cohorts also lead by example. For Lambert, his competitive nature and will to win are what impresses his teammates.

“Even if he doesn’t have his best stuff that day, he goes right at hitters and has that edge about him that he always wants the ball,” Bartlein said.

During Lambert’s first stint at UW-Whitewater, he was more concerned about partying than going to class. Now, he is on track to receive a degree in Sociology next month, but through it all he has stayed true to himself.

“Growing up and maturing can be one of two ways,” Lambert said. “I still act and behave like a kid, but as far as being responsible and taking care of business, I know when and what needs to be taken care of.”

Lambert said he does not view himself as a leader, but as one of the guys who goes about their business. For Vodenlich and the rest of the team, seeing a guy who has been through some real-life experiences go about his business is just about the best leadership they could ask for.

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Founded 1901
Baseball Feature: Constructing a leader