If not for football, Tom Brady might have been Joe Mauer before Joe Mauer came along. Or at least a platoon partner for A.J. Pierzynski.
Because it's Super Bowl week, writers will exhaust every possible angle on the New England Patriots and the New York Giants. But it's not that much of a stretch to imagine Brady — perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history — strapping on the tools of ignorance and playing Major League Baseball as an All-Star catcher instead.
Back in June 1995, Brady was a 17-year-old who had just graduated high school in San Mateo, Calif. He was a couple of months away from heading to the University of Michigan to play football (and, presumably, to go to class) when the Montreal Expos picked him in the 18th round of baseball's draft (a full round ahead of David Ross and Aaron Miles!)
A catcher with a tall, left-handed power stroke and a rocket arm, there was a lot to like. Reporter Rachel Brady (interesting coincidence) of the Globe and Mail examines what might have been:
"Whenever he would take an infield before a game, that's when they really took notice," said Brady's high school baseball coach Pete Jensen, who was also a scout for the Seattle Mariners at the time. "Scouts would see him throw from behind the plate and say, 'Wow,' because he really had an outstanding arm."
Of course, Jensen's recollection includes a tall tale of Brady's considerable power.
Jensen recalls one game when Brady blistered two homers, one of them crushed so far it rapped off Serra's team bus and woke a sleeping bus driver who figured he had parked a safe distance from the fence. Jensen also took his young player to a pre-draft workout for the Mariners, where he rocked a few balls out of the old Kingdome.
The Expos kept courting Brady after he left for Ann Arbor; they invited him to take batting practice at Candlestick Park and even suited him up in an Expos uniform. They also exchanged emails. But, long story short, Montreal never offered him money to sign because Brady seemed committed to college, and to football. Plus, it was the Expos. They couldn't afford to waste a dollar.
Brady obviously made the right decision. All he does is set records and play in Super Bowls. And, despite the violent nature of football, there's no more demanding position in sports than catcher in baseball. What will Mauer's career look like from this year forward? Because of injuries, we're not quite sure. And by the time Brady would have made the majors, the Expos as a franchise weren't exactly at their best. Imagine Brady being the best player on some bad Washington Nationals teams. He's probably better off with New England, no?
Give me baseball every time (and twice on NFL Sundays), but ... Brady took the correct course. At least the "more correct" one. Still, it's fun to wonder.
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