MINNEAPOLIS — Kohl Stewart is a multi-sport athlete, and it turns out he’s pretty good at both sports.
That’s evident by the fact that the Texas prep pitcher was not only taken by the Minnesota Twins with the No. 4 overall pick in this month’s Major League Baseball Draft, but he also has a scholarship to play quarterback at Texas A&M. Many high schoolers would love to have that kind of talent in one sport, let alone two. The gift of athleticism means Stewart had a choice to make upon graduating: baseball or football.
Stewart made his decision Wednesday, signing a contract with the Twins.
That sounds like a familiar scenario for Twins fans, who remember when a local kid from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul had the option of either playing professional baseball as a catcher or heading south to play quarterback at Florida State University. The kid, of course, is Joe Mauer, who ultimately chose baseball over football.
“I wouldn’t have signed to Florida State if it wasn’t a possibility,” Mauer said. “I always wanted to play in the big leagues and always wanted to try to have an opportunity to get there. … That was a tough decision, too. I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”
The decision has indeed worked out OK for Mauer, who is likely on his way to his sixth All-Star Game this year. He was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2009, is a three-time Gold Glove winner and, oh yeah, signed an eight-year, $184 million contract in 2010.
The Twins took Mauer with the first overall pick in the 2001 draft, an indication that they believed he would commit to baseball over Florida State. That was indeed the case, but if Mauer would have been taken later in the draft, he might have stuck with football instead.
“I think that’s what we did a good job of relaying to teams if they took me high enough and they put that type of investment in me or trust that I would give them the same,” Mauer said. “I would give it my best shot to play baseball. That’s ultimately what I wanted to do.”
The same is true with Stewart, who was in town this week for his physical before everything became official. He took in Tuesday’s game from an executive’s booth, wearing a navy Twins cap on top of his mullet. Stewart’s signing was officially be announced the next day.
When Minnesota drafted Stewart on June 6, the Twins remained confident that he would forgo his football career and join their organization to play professional baseball. Like Mauer, Stewart had the opportunity to play for a big-time football program, but being drafted as high as he was by Minnesota was too tough to pass on.
As good as Mauer was at baseball in high school — he struck out just once at Cretin-Derham — he was equally good at football. He led his team to a state title as a junior and was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year for football his senior year. Mauer had offers from other schools such as the University of Miami and his hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers on top of Florida State.
Some wonder about the “what if,” as in, how good could Mauer have been if he chose football over baseball? That thought hasn’t crossed Mauer’s mind in a while, though.
“Those first few years were a little different, just because I was a three-sport athlete so I missed basketball, missed football,” said Mauer, who starred in all three sports at Cretin-Derham Hall. “Now you’re just focused on one thing, which is good. But it also is a little tougher the first few years.”
Had Mauer chosen Florida State over baseball, he would have had the chance to be a part of some pretty good Seminoles teams. FSU went to the Sugar Bowl in 2002, which would have been Mauer’s sophomore year. A year later, the Seminoles were back in a major bowl game, this time losing to Miami in the Orange Bowl. In 2004, FSU was Gator Bowl bound.
During those years, Mauer was quickly working his way through the Twins’ minor league system. He debuted with Minnesota in 2004 and was a full-time major-league player by 2005. If the baseball thing didn’t work out, Mauer said FSU coach Bobby Bowden told him there would be a scholarship waiting for him in Tallahassee.
The former three-sport athlete instead chose the life of a one-sport athlete, which has worked out just fine for Mauer, who, before Stewart’s signing, offered some words of wisdom to the Texas native and others who have to choose between two sports they love.
After all, he’s been in those cleats before.
“I think for me, I know it would have been very difficult to do both, especially the positions that I chose, catcher and quarterback,” Mauer said. “I think it’d be a little easier if I was a pitcher and whatever. But the two key positions, I think, would have been very difficult.
“It’s difficult to do both. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing. If I were to give my best advice, it would be do what you want, do what you love and work hard at it.”