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Two-sport star Mitchell happy with career choice

Despite bumpy route to big leagues, prospect doesn't pine for football

Two-sport star Mitchell happy with career choice

CHICAGO -- Jared Mitchell watched the start of Super Bowl XLVIII and never once did he think, "That could have been me."

The 25-year-old White Sox Minor League outfielder played baseball and football at Louisiana State University, joining teammate Chad Jones as the first student-athletes to win a BCS National Title (2007) and College World Series crown (2009).

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Mitchell also teamed up at LSU with Trindon Holliday, who was back deep Sunday night for the Broncos to handle the opening kick coming from the Seahawks' Steven Hauschka. But even as his friend took part in one of sports' biggest events, and even with Mitchell's ongoing fight to the Majors having been well documented, there was no second-guessing his athletic choice.

"It was a tough call because it was something I've done my whole life," said Mitchell during a phone interview from Florida. "I knew there would be a point and time that I had to make a decision. I was, and still am, very fine with the decision that I made."

During LSU baseball's championship '09 campaign, Mitchell batted .327 with 11 homers, 50 RBIs, 64 runs scored and 35 stolen bases. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series after producing a .348 average with two homers and seven RBIs in six games.

As a wide receiver and sometime kick returner on the football side, Mitchell finished with 24 receptions for 274 yards from 2006-08. He had 13 catches for 143 yards as a sophomore on the title team. The raw numbers weren't spectacular, but Mitchell believes an NFL opportunity was possible if he let go of baseball when the White Sox made him their first-round selection and 23rd pick overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.

"I would have had to have a good year my last year there [at LSU]," said Mitchell of what it took for an NFL future. "Like I said, with the choices I had at that particular time, I did what was best for me and my future."

This tale of the two-sport decision-making process focuses on Mitchell, but he serves as an example of talented athletes who eventually chose baseball over another beloved athletic endeavor. Look no further than the White Sox for more of these scenarios.

Joe Borchard, the 12th pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, opted to play outfield in Chicago as opposed to trying to get to the NFL at quarterback, a position he played for Stanford. Borchard threw five touchdowns against UCLA in a 1999 contest.

Josh Fields had a similar career trajectory, with the 18th overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft ending up at third base and in left field for a brief period for the White Sox. Fields threw for 307 yards for Oklahoma St. in the 2004 Cotton Bowl, racking up a greater yardage total than Eli Manning, who led Mississippi to victory that afternoon.

Both players made the same decision as Mitchell and faced the same baseball struggles, as did Ken Williams, the White Sox executive vice president. He played football and baseball at Stanford, but went for baseball because of an interesting reason he explained recently to MLB.com.

"Strangely enough, the failure in this game [baseball] attracted me to it even more," said a smiling Williams. "I never really experienced that [failure] before and I wanted to conquer it."

Williams looks back some 30 years later and thinks he probably made the "wrong decision" because he "was a much better football player than I ever was a baseball player." He completed a six-year career for four Major League teams in '91 with a .218 average, 27 homers and 119 RBIs.

There's no blueprint to be followed in making this call, according to Williams, who watched his son, Kyle, opt for football over baseball and become a productive NFL receiver.

"It's an individual choice," said Williams of picking one sport over another. "I don't ever think you can predict what a guy is going to choose because you don't know all the variables that are at play in his own mind.

"How does he feel physically? Mentally? Which game is emotionally better for him? How quickly does he need to feel the rush of being in the top spot of the sport? It's all different."

Bo Jackson, who recently returned to the White Sox as a team ambassador after playing on the South Side, Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan represent three players who excelled in both baseball and football at the highest professional level. Russell Wilson, the winning quarterback from Sunday's Super Bowl, intends to come to Spring Training at some point with the Rangers after he was a Rule 5 Draft selection in December.

Although he didn't realize it at the time, Mitchell can look back now and realize how difficult it was to play both football and baseball at LSU while trying to maintain his studies and the life of a college student. He characterizes the accomplishments of Jackson, Sanders and Jordan as "unbelievable," but Mitchell also feels that with sports being year-round commitments, it would be "next to impossible" to play well in two sports now.

That player would be dividing his time, while everyone else who concentrated on one sport is getting better. So, it's back to the diamonds for Mitchell when White Sox position players report to Spring Training in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 20, without any thought about football beyond those of a highly knowledgeable fan.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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