Heisman winner Winston makes baseball season debut
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Jameis Winston is following the road map Bo Jackson laid out nearly 25 years ago.
The 20-year-old Florida State redshirt freshman became the sixth Heisman winner in NCAA history to play college baseball after winning the award when the Seminoles opened the season Friday. The last player to do it was Jackson in 1986, according to STATS LLC.
Both are from Bessemer, Ala., and Winston grew up using the former Auburn star as an incentive to realize his two-sport dream. Jackson, 51, is the only athlete to play in a Major League Baseball all-star game and the NFL Pro Bowl.
Winston also wouldn’t mind following in the footsteps of another two-sport Florida State star – Deion Sanders. The former Seminoles defensive back is the only player to play in both the Super Bowl and the World Series.
”Being from Bessemer, all you heard about was Bo. Bo this, Bo that. Obviously, you had Deion (Sanders) and people like that,” Winston told The Associated Press, adding that he also followed Brian Jordan’s career, another two-sport star who played Major League baseball and in the NFL . ”That also influenced me because people telling me what I need to do and I’m going to have to make a decision, and I’m just like, `Hey, they’re doing it … so why can’t I do it?’
”That’s how I always looked at it when I was a little kid. If somebody else is going to do something, you’re not (about to) tell me I can’t do it. … It’s like, I’m not even worried about what your opinion is. I’m worried about what my goals are and what I’m trying to do in life.”
He’s off to a good start at a young age.
The 6-foot-4, 225 pound Winston already has a national championship on his resume and wants to add a College World Series title to his trophy case.
He’s Florida State’s closer with a 95 mph fastball, a slider and Winston is adding a split-changeup to his repertoire. He’ll also play in the outfield and fill in as a designated hitter at times.
”I dreamed about everything when I was growing up,” Winston said. ”I dreamed about hitting a half-court shot in basketball. … In football, I was dreaming about that last drive to score a touchdown, and that dream came true. In baseball, I was dreaming about hitting a walk-off home run. I did that before in my life, but not yet on the college level.
”I love to dream big. If you’re going to dream, why not dream big?”
Sanders, who exchanges text messages with Winston, reminds the young Seminole to just be himself.
”This is when it gets real,” Sanders told the AP. ”Now that the national spotlight is on you, now you’ve really got to be protective and guard yourself against all sorts of” things.
Sanders said his advice to Winston has been ”letting him know, stay right. Don’t take the left, just stay right.”
Still, there have been no shortage of suggestions as to the path Winston should take.
Maybe he should drop baseball and stick to football. Winston himself once thought his baseball ceiling was higher than his football options. Winston’s grandfather was rooting for basketball before he scaled back to football and baseball in 8th grade.
”The biggest challenge is outside influences,” Sanders said. ”People that never played two sports that have an opinion, I can’t even understand that to save my life. When you know who you are, what you are and how you are, no one else’s opinion of you should even matter.”
Winston was picked by the Texas Rangers in the 15th round of the 2012 draft.
The Rangers also took Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson last December in the Rule 5 draft of Triple-A players left off rosters. Texas general manager John Daniels got a read on Winston from his scouts.
”They talked about just the athlete, kind of the ease with which he does it, the competitiveness on the field,” Daniels said. ”I think with both guys, look at their statistics, and they may or may not jump out at you. I think you’ve got to understand these guys were not fully committed to playing baseball, and our people felt that really in both cases if they really wanted to, and that was their primary focus, and then set aside the time and energy to focus on it, they’d be very successful.
”I think the reality is they both have pretty bright futures in the NFL.”
Right now, Winston doesn’t have to choose.
Florida State opened the season Friday with a 13-3 victory against Niagara on Friday evening. Winston entered the game in the eighth inning and drew walk in his only at bat. He played left field in the ninth inning.
Winston is focused on helping the Seminoles, ranked in the top 10 by several outlets, including Baseball America, win a baseball title. Winston was named preseason third-team All-America by Baseball America along with teammate DJ Stewart. Pitcher Luke Weaver was named first-team as the Seminoles were one of three programs in the nation with three or more All Americans.
Seminoles coach Mike Martin, who’s taken 15 teams to the College World Series and coached 16 first-round picks, including 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey, believes Winston could have a strong career as a pitcher or fielder.
”If he was to go into pro ball as a hitter and an outfielder and things didn’t work, there’s no doubt in my mind he could pitch,” Martin said. ”And vice versa. He’s that talented. … He can go out there in the outfield and play and play it well and hit. He just, of course, needs what we say in football – reps.
”I think that’s something that drives Jameis. I really do. I think he wants to be the next two-sport major leaguer, NFLer.”