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From Football to Hardball: MLBers that could have been NFLers

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by Rigs
JetNation and DraftDaddy.com Columnist

With the Major League Baseball playoffs getting started, we thought we’d do something different at Draft Daddy, by looking at some current Major League baseball players who once played prominent roles as college football players and a few others that where signed or recruited to play big time college football.

1B~ Darin Erstad ~ Los Angeles (AL):

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Will play a prominent role in Los Angeles-Anaheim’s upcoming run in the playoffs….Former punter for the 1994 National Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers. Averaged over 42 yards per punt. Was such an impressive walk-on punter, he was offered a full football scholarship in 1994 by legandary coach Tom Osbourne. Had possible NFL potential as a punter, but decided to concentrate on baseball only in 1995, after he was selected #1 overall in the baseball draft by California (now Los Angeles).

OF~ Brian Jordan ~ Atlanta:

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Jordan will be on Atlanta’s 25 man playoff roster in round one as an outfielder….Veteran baseball player Jordan was once a budding NFL star at safety. After garnering All-America honors at the University of Richmond, he played three seasons with Atlanta (NFL). He was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 1992 and led all NFL DB’s with 193 tackles in 1990. Abruptly switched to baseball fulltime in 1993. Has 181 career HR’s and 811 career RBI’s. Was named to the 1999 NL All-Star game.

2B~ Eric Young ~ San Diego (DL):

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Homered in the Padres first playoff game against the Cardinals Tuesday….Speedy infielder, in his 14th MLB season, was once an impact wide receiver for the Rugters Scarlett Knights in the latter part of the 1980’s. As a senior, the 5’8″ speedster had 48 catches for 592 yards and three TD’s on the football field. For his career, he had 109 catches for 1,380 yards and 9 TD’s for Rutgers. Best MLB season was 1996, when he hit .324, with 53 stolen bases for Colorado. Young had a son –Eric Jr.– in his mid-teens, who is now a decent MLB prospect. Eric Jr. and Eric Sr. actually faced each other in a March spring training game.

1B~ Frank Thomas ~ Chicago (A.L):

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Will not play in the post-season for the Chi-Sox due to an injury….Looks like a virtual lock as a Major League Hall of Famer, with 448 career HR’s and 1,465 career RBI’s. Nontheless, was once considered a legit tight end prospect for Auburn, snagging 3 receptions for 45 yards in 1986, as a true freshman. Might have projected as an NFL prospect, but quit football at 18 years old to concentrate on baseball — a wise move.

1B~ Todd Helton ~ Colorado:

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Was once, very briefly, the starting quarterback for the University of Tennessee. Threw for 484 yards and 4 TD’s in three seasons for the Vols. Was a backup to former NFL #1 pick Heath Shuler early in his career. Finally got a shot to start in 1994, but someone named Peyton Manning replaced Helton when he was injured that season and the rest is “history”. That minor injury may have launched two Hall of Fame careers (one in baseball; one in football), as it forced Helton to give up football and look towards baseball fulltime.

OF~ Joe Borchard ~ Chicago (A.L):

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Perhaps one of the least known to casual baseball fans on this list, but the most compelling story of all the players. Borchard looked like a budding football star at Stanford back in the latter of part of the 1990’s, recording back-to-back 300-yard passing games vs. UCLA and San Jose State as a junior in 1999. He still owns the Pac-10 and school record for the longest touchdown pass (98 yards) from scrimmage….Actually, he was just scratching the surface as a quarterback, before he left. He was tall, mobile and had a cannon arm. He looked every bit the part of a first day NFL selection….But in early 2000 he simply walked away from Ty Willingham’s Stanford program after the White Sox selected him 12th overall and handed him the largest draft pick signing bonus in MLB history (at that time)….Fast forwarding to today, Borchard has struggled significantly in making the jump to MLB baseball from AAA and wont be on the White Sox post season roster. In parts of four seasons with the Sox, Borchard has a .191 BA with only 12 HR’s and 93 K’s in 298 MLB at-bats.

OF~ Kenny Kelly ~ Washington:

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Similar story to Borchard’s, except Kelly didn’t have as much NFL potential at quarterback. Kelly was a rising starting quarterback at the University of Miami in the latter part of 1990’s, but simply walked away from football and a quarterback competiton with Ken Dorsey in 1999 to join the the then expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. Despite a lot of early promise as a speedy outfielder, Kelly has been tagged as a 4-A player (too good for the minors; not good enough for a fulltime MLB spot). Kelly made his MLB debut in 2000 (1 AB), but it wasn’t until this season that he got his first MLB hit, going 4-13 with Cincinnati and Washington in limited playing time.

SS ~ Mark DeRosa ~ Texas:

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Former University of the Pennsylvania starting quarterback, who was a high impact Ivy League football player, until he left Penn after his junior season to pursue a Major League Baseball career. Signed by the Atlanta Braves and played parts of seven big league seasons with the Braves. Has moved on to Texas now. 30 year old utily player has a .263 career batting average in 459 games for Atlanta and Texas.

1B~ Phil Nevin ~ Texas:

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First overall pick in the 1992 MLB draft (Houston Astros), was once an impressive kicker and fringe NFL prospect for Cal State Fullerton. Kicked 65 straight PAT’s and a total of 31 FG’s for CSF in the early 1990’s. Came into baseball with a poor attitude and looked like a total “bust” early, until he changed his outlook and turned his career around at the age of 28 (1999).

OF~ Adam Dunn ~ Cincinnati:

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A budding baseball superstar, Dunn spent time as a quarterback for the University of Texas, after a stellar high school career, but never took a snap in an actual college game. Was a very highly recruited quarterback out of high school, but left the Texas program when they tried to move him to tight end. Due to Dunn’s dual baseball/football backround, he became fast friends with former University of Texas star running back Ricky Williams, who also used to play minor league baseball.

OF~ Rick Helling ~ Milwaukee Brewers:

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Played one season of football at the University of North Dakota in the early 1990’s before transferring to Stanford in 1992 to play baseball…. Has a career record of 93-79 in Major League Baseball.

OF~ Chris Singleton ~ Tampa Bay:

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Mostly a fringe baseball player, although he did start for several seasons with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore. Was a wide receiver for the University of Nevada, where he had 86 receptions for 1,526 yards and 11 touchdowns from 1990-92. Had 43 receptions for 893 yards and 8 TD’s as a junior. At 6’2″, with decent speed, had an outside shot at an NFL career.

OF~ Quinton McCracken ~ Arizona:

Journeyman outfielder, with only 20 HR’s, 242 RBI’s and 87 stolen bases in 10 MLB seasons….At 5’7″, was a former cornerback and kick return specialist for Duke University from 1988 to 1991. Once returned an interception for a TD to help Duke defeat Norh Carolina State in a big ACC upset.

OF~ Gabe Gross ~ Toronto:

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Former starting quarterback for Auburn, left football for good after the 1999 SEC season to concentrate on a promising baseball career. Threw for a total 1,254 yards, with 9 TD’s for Auburn. First round pick by Toronto in the summer of 2001, but has struggled to get to the Majors fulltime due to his propensity to strikeout too much. Hit a grand-slam and drove in 5 runs against against Oakland in September of 2004. Son of former NFL guard Lee Gross (Baltimore Colts, New Orleans).

3B ~ Josh Fields:

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Fields was a quality quarterback for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, with a legit chance to play in the NFL. Walked away from football prior to his senior season, after the Chicago White Sox selected him in the first round (18th overall) of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft….Fields, who played in A ball the most recently completed season, is considered a top Major League prospect at this point.

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When Atlanta battles N.L foe Houston this week in the 1st round round of the playoffs, a lot will be made of their budding 21 year old superstar rightfielder Jeff Francouer, who was once a highly regarded safety/linebacker that accepted a football scholarship from Clemson University, after an intense recruiting battle

Some other prominent MLB that had accepted football scholarships or were heavily recruited by big time schools:

Trot Nixon (OF) ~ Boston Red Sox: Quarterback, Signed with North Carolina State

Joe Mauer (C) ~ Minnesota Twins: Quarterback, Signed with Florida State

Matt Holliday (OF) ~ Colorado Rockies: Quarterback, Signed with Oklahoma State

Carl Crawford (OF) ~ Tampa Bay Devil Rays : Running Back, Signed with Nebraska

Grady Sizemore (OF) ~ Cleveland Indians: Quarterback, committed to University of Washington.

Chip Ambres (OF) ~ Kansas City Royals: Quarterback, signed with Texas A & M

Choo Freeman (OF) Colorado Rockies : Wide receiver, Signed with Texas A & M

Jason Standridge (RHP) Cincinnati Reds: Quarterback, Signed with Auburn University

Joey Gathright (OF) ~ Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Wide receiver, reportedly recruited by LSU

Alex Rodriguez (3B) ~ New York Yankees: Quarterback (wears Dan Marino’s #13, his idol), recruited heavily by Miami (Florida) football; signed with them for baseball.

Chipper Jones (3B) ~ Atlanta Braves: Wide Receiver, word is he was recruited heavily by Florida State to play football

Mike Hampton (LHP) ~ Atlanta Braves (injured) : Safety, had an offer to play football from the University of Florida

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One more football note: Did you know that future NFL Hall of Fame safety John Lynch threw the first pitch in history of the Florida Marlins organization on June 15th, 1992? Lynch, a 2nd round pick from Stanford in baseball, was pitching for the Erie Sailors that day against the Jamestown Expos. Remember, the Marlins didn’t play their first Major League game until April of 1993, but their minor leagues operation began in 1992…..Lynch was a 3rd round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993 and never took to the mound again after the 1992 baseball season.

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