One of the NFL's top quarterbacks might have followed a boyhood idol into a baseball career were it not for (at least) one issue: He was afraid of getting hit with pitches.
That's the story Cam Newton told ESPN in its "My path to the pros" series, a first-person account of his amateur beginnings. Newton, 24, said he idolized Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey Jr., was a fan of New York Yankees icon Derek Jeter and watched a lot of Chipper Jones and the Atlanta Braves when he started playing baseball around age 9.
In organized youth baseball, Newton — a better athlete than most in his group — played center field, shortstop and some third base. Newton was bigger than many of the other kids and, at some tournaments, other coaches would demand to see his birth certificate. Hey, just like some major leaguers! It's worth noting that he doesn't mention being asked to pitch. A future NFL quarterback? Huh.
Most of Newton's baseball fun, he said, came when only the kids were playing and no adults were around:
Those pickup, backyard games were the most fun -- just those warms nights in the South where you smell the fresh-cut grass and walk home exhausted. Those nights were the best.
But they didn't last.
I quit baseball at 14 because I was afraid of the pitches. The kids started getting better and throwing faster, and it would've hurt getting hit by that ball, so I stopped playing. That left a void, so I started playing basketball in the eighth grade. It was just something to do then, and in my first high school game, I fouled out.
Fourteen. So he wasn't really close to pulling a Bo Jackson and trying to play football and baseball at Auburn.
Newton's feelings aren't unusual regarding baseball — lots of kids are afraid of the ball — but it's still ironic that he gets paid, in part, to play a contact sport in which "getting hit" can mean a much greater danger.
Football always had been first in his life; He had been playing it since age 7. And he's shown he's in the right sport. Still, Griffey used to muse about his football abilities and wonder what could have been. Newton seems like the kind who could have played baseball at least to college age. Newton is cool and all, but Bo was the man.
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