Normally, exhibition games between Major League teams and college teams is often regarded in the same vein as a private cocktail party reserved for only the extremely interested baseball fans. However, Tuesday’s game between the New york Yankees and the Florida State Seminoles was clearly more than that.
Boasting the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston, who serves as both the team’s closer and an outfielder, the Seminoles made this game something more of a huge attention grab, which is entirely up to the fan’s perspective as positive or negative.
Winston was probably the most scrutinized player on George Steinbrenner Field, even more than Derek Jeter, who is playing his last spring training, and Masahiro Tanaka, who’s playing his first. For Winston, the game was nothing to write home about; he entered the game as a defensive substitute, grounded out, and then struck out. Still, Winston’s mere presence was more than enough; the only thing that could have made the day better for him would have been if he had been allowed to pitch to the players as well.
Still, Winston clearly enjoyed the opportunity to meet his favorite players and said that it was almost as great as winning the National Championship.
Now that the excitement has likely died down and college baseball can go back to its regular pace, the question is if Jameis Winston can add more exposure to college baseball. We already saw how negative attention from college baseball has been covered, with the Ben Wetzler case, but how about a positive story, even if it’s on par with a Tim Tebow-esque gimmick?
Winston is by every definition of the word, an athlete. While there are probably people, diehard Seminole football fans and NFL scouts in particular, who cringe at the thought of Winston becoming a two sport professional athlete, there is no denying that Winston, if he can prove that he can manage both sports and find what he works best at, in this case as the Seminoles closer.
And to be honest, a Heisman winning football star, even a football star alone playing baseball is actually a fun thing to watch. Look at Bo Jackson. Jackson was a star at Auburn in football and baseball. He would have been one of the greatest athletes of all time had he not gotten hurt in football and limited his strikeout numbers in baseball.
If Jeff Samardzjia had chosen to play both football and baseball at the same time, instead of strictly staying as a pitcher, in all likelihood, he would have been an exceptionally popular athlete.
Winston is, however, a very raw baseball player. Despite being named a preseason All American, he needs to figure out where he wants to play if he is serious about playing two sports. As a hitter, he’s below average. He has high strikeout numbers, and while he does have some value as a switch hitter, having him in a daily lineup would be more of a liability. As a pitcher, Winston is actually very good. His season has started reasonably well with a save, only one hit allowed, and an 0.00 ERA, but the concern here is that pitchers are high maintenance. Winston would not be able to play both baseball and football if he was a starting pitcher. As a reliever, maybe a closer or a set up man, there wouldn’t be as much stress on his throwing arm.
The other thing that needs to be noted is how Winston plans to balance the training for baseball and football. Does Winston join a summer league? Does he use the summer to do football drills? Winston has the projectability and the hype to play in a big summer league, like the Cape Cod League or the New England Collegiate League.
He even had the hype to be a first round talent out of high school; had he not been so insistent on his Florida State commitment, scouts theorized he would have been a low first round draft choice, and rightfully so, as his fastball reaches the high 90’s.
While most football people wouldn’t want Winston to be a two sport athlete, he has gotten an endorsement from perhaps the most important person he knows right now: Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher, who was out to throw the first pitch, and probably monitor his quarterback, said “I think he definitely has ability, but it has to be the right situation.” Now, if your coach is that honest and isn’t sugarcoating, you know that he really believes that Winston may have a future as a two sport star.
In a spring training which will see the Super Bowl Champion quarterback suiting up for the Texas Rangers, the first trials of the new home plate collision law, as well as a preview of instant replay, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps Winston does end up showing that he is serious about being a two sport athlete. Perhaps also he improves his stock to the point where next year, he could be a first round pick in both baseball and football in the same year (It is entirely possible if he either leaves in 2015 or stays until 2016).
Still Winston could be the best thing for college baseball in terms of publicity right now. Time will tell if he is serious about being a two sport star and how good he could be.