There’s a haphazard collection of baseball memorabilia in my home office. I’m not a collector per se, more of a hoarder. I’ll keep stuff just because I already have it and might need it someday. Even if I don’t need it, the items often make for a good story.
The other day I rediscovered a couple of baseball cards I’d received at the Perfect Game All-American Classic 2011, a showcase of top high school players in the country. The rosters are adorned with young men just now making their mark in the big leagues: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, David Dahl, Joey Gallo, Lucas Giolito, Lance McCullers, Addison Russell, etc.
My memories of most of those players are a little fuzzy now. I remember Correa putting on an impressive batting practice display. And Gallo hit a homer to dead center that traveled 442 feet, the tenth longest drive in Petco Park history to that point. I shared a good chuckle over that blast with a former MLB executive in attendance.
Two other players participated in this contest, and both have gone on to greater things. Corey Seager and Jameis Winston played for the East squad that day. I have no recollection of Seager’s performance, but the box score says he struck out in both of his at-bats.
As for Winston, he went 1-for-3 with two stolen bases. He singled to right to lead off the fourth inning, the East’s only hit. He then stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and most memorably stole home with ease. Winston’s speed and aggressiveness were eye-catching in a Billy Hamilton sort of way.
Fast-forward five years, and the young men depicted on these two baseball cards in front of me have enjoyed considerable success in their respective careers. Seager, the 18th pick overall in the 2012 draft, has hit .316/.374/.526 with 25 home runs as the Dodgers’ starting shortstop during their march toward the playoffs. He played in his first All-Star Game at age 22, is a virtual lock for National League Rookie of the Year, and stands a good chance of winning an MVP award or two in the not-too-distant future.
In fact, a case can be made (and has been made) for Seager’s MVP candidacy this year. As FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron notes, “The Dodgers would be sunk if they didn’t have Corey Seager.” And as MLB.com’s Mike Petriello points out, he’s having the best offensive season by a shortstop in Dodgers history, which dates back to 1884. Seager won’t win thanks to Kris Bryant, but is finishing second to Bryant really so bad?
Winston, meanwhile, chose a different path. He went to Florida State on a football scholarship but also continued playing baseball… for a while. He hit .209 across two seasons for the Seminoles and managed to steal just two bases—the same number he stole in the fourth inning of his showcase appearance in San Diego—in 65 games. He enjoyed greater success as a right-handed reliever, posting a 1.94 ERA and notching nine saves.
The Texas Rangers, undeterred by Winston’s commitment to Florida State, had taken him in the 15th round of the 2012 draft. Two years later, they remained hopeful he might play for them someday as a two-sport star. These are, after all, the same Rangers that once had Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson suit up for them in spring training.
Former Rangers Assistant GM (and currently suspended Padres GM) A.J. Preller said in 2014, “Jameis is the kind of guy that whatever he wants to do, run for political office or play pro baseball or whatever, he’s going to do.” Winston himself was not lacking in confidence, saying, “I want to be better than Bo Jackson.”
While being better than Bo Jackson is a lot to ask of any human being, Winston has thrived at every level so far. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 2013, he was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first pick overall in the 2015 draft. This came 29 years after the Bucs selected Jackson with the first overall pick, only to watch helplessly as Bo chose baseball.
Winston was a Pro Bowl selection in his rookie campaign and overpowered the Atlanta Falcons in his 2016 debut. Given his lackluster college baseball record, it appears he made the right call. And although a “Jameis Knows Football” ad campaign isn’t likely to ever materialize, he clearly does know a thing or two about the sport.
Five years ago, at that showcase in San Diego, it was easy to imagine that some of the players on display would go on to achieve greatness, although it was a mystery which ones would and what form their greatness would take. Now we see Corey Seager and Jameis Winston as rising stars in their chosen professions.
The talent was always there, waiting for direction. And for the young men depicted on the baseball cards in front of me, a bright future has transformed into a bright present for all to enjoy.