|Copyright Times Publishing Co. Jun 8, 2000|
Two-sport stars forced to weigh money, education, preferences and more in picking a future.
Although Zephyrhills' Brett Cimorelli was rated as the 31st-best high school prospect by Baseball America, he saw no reason to pay close attention to Monday's amateur baseball draft.
After all, the senior was named to the Class 3A all-state football team last season and had signed to play with Florida State as a kicker in the fall. So Cimorelli decided to spend Monday afternoon working out.
When he got home, there was a bigger decision to make.
Cimorelli found out he was drafted in the 20th round (590th overall) by the Anaheim Angels. The courtship began soon after, and right-handed pitcher said the team was offering sixth- or seventh- round money to sign, which would include a potential six-figure signing bonus.
For Cimorelli, it is time for a resolution. He could play baseball professionally. He could play football collegiately. Or he could do both.
"I'm going to FSU," he said. "The question is if I'm going to sign to play professional baseball, as well. I like both sports and have been playing them for a long time. I know one day I won't be able to play both, but right now that's a decision I don't have to make."
Cimorelli isn't the only one with tough choices. Each year after the draft, elite dual-sport athletes face the decision of pursuing two sports or concentrating on one.
Joe Borchard, a rightfielder and backup quarterback at Stanford who is expected to take over as the starter this season, was drafted in the first round by the Chicago White Sox.
Michael Vick, a former outfielder and the Virginia Tech quarterback who guided the Hokies to the national championship game, was drafted in the 30th round by the Colorado Rockies.
Freddie Mitchell, a centerfielder and a former Lakeland High standout who plays receiver for UCLA, was drafted in the 50th round by the White Sox.
"The decision may be difficult for the players," said Jeff Spellman, scouting director for Team One Showcases, who also handicaps the draft for Team-OneBaseball.com. "But even though these guys play two sports, it doesn't cloud the issue as much as you'd think for teams drafting them. Guys like that get drafted because they're premium athletes."
If there is one team well-versed in this subject, it's the Devil Rays. Since Tampa Bay started drafting in 1996, it has taken five quarterbacks: Carl Crawford, who chose baseball over a commitment to Nebraska; Doug Johnson, who attended Florida and eventually dropped baseball; Kenny Kelly, who started last season at Miami; Jason Standridge, who dropped a commitment to Auburn; and Northeast High's Doug Waechter, who jilted South Florida.
"Athlete, that's the key word with these guys," Devil Rays director of scouting Dan Jennings said. "We scout and place these young men as to their ability as a baseball player. Just because a guy plays another sport, it doesn't hinder it one way or another with us."
Other teams have shared that philosophy. Perhaps that is why Vick was chosen, even though he hasn't played baseball since high school.
But signing dual-sport athletes can be problematic.
"Signability is the biggest thing with us," Jennings said. "Does he want to sign now? We want a full-time commitment from someone we draft for him to be a baseball player."
Some teams have succeeded in luring players from collegiate football. In February, Kelly, the former Tampa Catholic star, opted to leave football behind and sign a four-year major-league contract with the Rays believed to be worth about $2.2-million.
"I don't miss it a bit," Kelly said of football. "I'm not even thinking about football. The only thing I want to do now is play baseball and become a better baseball player. I'll always love Miami, and I'll still watch the games, but I won't miss it."
T.J. Tucker, a former River Ridge star who committed to UF as a kicker, signed with the Expos, who took him with the 47th pick in the 1997 draft. Last week, Tucker made his first major-league start.
Yet for every Kelly and Tucker, there are legitimate prospects such as John Elway and Ricky Williams who bypassed baseball or didn't last long in the sport because their talents were more suited for football.
All of these factors weigh heavily with Drew Henson.
The No. 1 draft pick of the Yankees in 1998, Henson also is a quarterback at Michigan. He has played both sports the past two years, including baseball with Class A Tampa last season. And with two years of college eligibility remaining, he still has no idea which sport he will choose.
"It's so difficult," Henson said last year in Tampa. "As a quarterback, I know I can't play both sports professionally. It's just not possible. It's harder because I have no idea where I'm headed."
Cimorelli is the latest in these tales. Negotiations are expected to start this week, although he won't be there for them. Cimorelli is playing in the Florida-Georgia all-star football game this weekend in Orlando. The decision is harder because Cimorelli's father, Bruce, is the baseball coach at Zephyrhills, and Brett has been playing the sport since he was 4.
"Yeah, I like baseball more," he said. "But I don't have to worry about giving up one or the other right now. I can play football and walk on the baseball team at FSU. I can also play football there and play baseball professionally. There are many choices.
"It's going to be a challenge to play both sports at another level. I know that. But I'll meet it head on and work even harder. I also know my parents will be proud of the decision I make. If it's football, heck, they'll come and watch me on Sundays. Even if I end up not playing a sport, I can still walk away with a degree. That's important. Really, when you look at it, I'm in a win-win situation."