FSU’s Jameis Winston back in swing of things for baseball season
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In the last line of his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, Jameis Winston said, "At Florida State, if we’re going to do it then, we do it big then."
Going 14-0 and winning a national title is big. But the Jameis Effect has carried over across the street with his other sport, baseball.
After watching Winston capture a national championship, the Florida State baseball team wants to win a College World Series title. That would be big, especially for a baseball program that has been to the CWS 21 times but has never won.
"I think football, it started something for us," Winston said. "Because now all the baseball guys are like, ‘Are you going to come over here and win the championship, too?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, we got to get one.’"
Winston plans to factor into the equation on a talented baseball team that opened up at No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll. Florida State returns its top two pitchers and a third, Mike Compton, is back after missing 2013 with Tommy John surgery.
The lineup is anchored by outfielder D.J. Stewart and also features shortstop Justin Gonzalez, infielder Jose Brizuela and freshman infielder/outfielder Ben DeLuzio, a third-round draft pick by the Miami Marlins who instead opted to come to Florida State.
And Winston figures in prominently in the Seminoles’ plans in 2014.
"We want him to be the closer when it’s all said and done," Florida State coach Mike Martin said. "That’s what we’re going to prepare him to be."
But Winston won’t be limited to just providing three outs in the ninth inning. As a freshman last season, Winston played right field, was a designated hitter and middle reliever (he was 1-2 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA).
He also showed off his arm strength, throwing out runners on the fly from right field at home plate. While he struggled at the plate and hit just .235, he still had seven doubles and scored 21 runs.
Many Florida State fans fear that Winston may be injured in baseball and that could keep him off the football field. But Martin feels that may be exaggerated. He said they will be cautious not to have Winston throw too many pitches and give him ample rest, but Winston may not throw that many pitches if he’s successful as a closer. And Winston could get hit by a pitch in the batter’s box, so there are risks no matter what position he plays.
In the end, Winston came to Florida State to be a two-sport athlete. And so far he’s done a good job of juggling both responsibilities.
"We’re going to treat Jameis just like any other member of our baseball team," Martin said. "If I didn’t, Jameis would really be mad. He doesn’t want to be treated any differently."
The truth is, Winston is different. He’s a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who loves baseball as much (perhaps more) than football.
"I love this game, too," Winston said. "That’s what some people fail to realize. Some people don’t understand that after football season I have to go to baseball.
"I played a long season, it’s a little wear and tear on your body. But I’m young; I can’t act like an old man."
After taking a week off following the national title to both physically and mentally recharge, Winston was on the baseball field at Dick Howser Stadium working out. His first few pitches off the mound felt unnatural, as pitching coach Mike Bell recalled Winston telling him that he was afraid he was going to spike the ball into the ground.
Winston has a strong, accurate arm on the football field and that transfers well over to baseball, where he has a live arm and can locate three pitches. He’s known for having a fastball in the mid-90s and a nasty slider, but he’s also developed a curveball since arriving at Florida State.
"He’s always had a really good feel for his slider," Bell said. "The fastball, with the extension he has, with his big frame (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), there’s a lot of deception there. So it’s tough and it does jump on hitters. Not only from a velocity standpoint but a movement standpoint.
"The ability to throw the slider for a strike and to throw it as a chase pitch, he has that. And he actually worked hard and picked up the change-up last year."
The area where Winston needs to improve the most is at the plate. Winston hit .424 with seven home runs in his senior season at Hueytown (Ala.). His first college season was an adjustment to college pitching as he hit just .235 and was more of a line-drive hitter.
But Winston also had his moments in the batters box, recording four RBI in a game against Stetson. He had three hits in another game at N.C. State and had a pair of doubles vs. Jacksonville University.
"I used to be a hitter when I was in high school," Winston said. "Now I have to get back in the groove of things. That’s one thing I don’t like about baseball. In football, I can make my adjustments fast. It’s more of a strategized sport. But baseball, if you mess up out there, everyone is looking at you. You can’t hide it."
Everyone will be watching Winston on the baseball field. Each pitch and swing will be magnified. Not since Charlie Ward won a Heisman and a national title in 1993 — and then played basketball in the winter of 1994 for the Seminoles — has a two-sport star been so magnified on Florida State’s campus.
The attention is not what Winston wants. But it’s the reality. Florida State’s baseball players know this.
"He’s still the same," Gonzalez said. "To other people, he’s a celebrity. To us, he’s just Jameis."
But being Jameis means more. Gonzalez spoke of Winston’s aura but also mentioned that he’s a leader and that he’s willing to do whatever to help the team.
Winston is college football’s biggest star, finding success instantly the first time he stepped on the field. Baseball, as Winston said, is a game of failure. It’s far different.
How good can he be in baseball? Who knows? In mid-March, when spring football starts, Winston will be taking snaps under center. When football isn’t practicing, he will be playing baseball. It’s a lot to juggle.
But Winston is happy to pitch or hit — lending his energy and enthusiasm to a baseball team that has again set the goal of reaching the College World Series. And perhaps winning it all.
"I just want to have an effect on this team like I did the football team," Winston said. "I want to be the team player and get this show going.
"Whatever my role is, I’m going to do my part. When you are a team player and you have all these good guys around you, it doesn’t matter what your role is."