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Zuba: Batting next: Russell Wilson? (Feb. 5)

| Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Don’t worry, baseball fans — even though Russell Wilson just won the Super Bowl, he still plans to show up at spring training with the Texas Rangers.

Rangers assistant general manager A.J. Preller was so bold as to suggest that the connection could benefit the Rangers if Wilson, who was drafted by Texas in the Rule 5 draft in December, decided to try baseball seriously again. Maybe, just maybe, Wilson would then want to play for the Rangers.

“If at some point down the road he decides he wants to do baseball again, we felt like it would be a positive to have him with us,” Preller said in an article published on MLB.com.

If you think this statement sounds ridiculous, you’re not alone. It seems like an absurd thing to say about a young, exceedingly talented quarterback with a bright future in the NFL ahead of him.

Wilson isn’t a struggling journeyman who should look into finding a new sporting career. He’s a champion coming off a Super Bowl victory so recent that he hasn’t even had time yet to plan a trip to Disney World.

But Preller has a point, and he certainly has nothing to lose by suggesting the possibility, however wild it may be.

Wilson’s comments on his upcoming stint with Texas indicate that his current goal is not to become the next Bo Jackson, but his plan to appear at spring training is more than a silly publicity stunt.

Although baseball almost certainly won’t become Wilson’s career anytime soon, he did play in the minor leagues in the Colorado Rockies organization, which means he has a real connection to the game. Wilson probably enjoyed playing baseball until the nature of modern professional sports forced him to choose one game.

Sports seem to have become too much of a business for the world to see another Jackson. At the very least, the chances are slim because many young athletes who demonstrate potential are encouraged to choose only one sport at an early age to maximize their hopes for an athletic career. Athletes who exclusively play one sport can’t get injured playing a “secondary” sport, and they can focus on developing a narrower set of elite skills.

This kind of intense focus isn’t inherently a bad thing. It can give young athletes direction and purpose and help them to push the limits of their potential in one particular sport.

But many other athletes do play multiple sports, and they do excel, especially at the high school level. Once most athletes enter the college recruitment phase, however, they have to choose one sport, and if they go pro, it’s all over — their sport is their profession.

It’s important to remember athletes don’t have to give up their appreciation of other sports when they choose one for a career. Athletes also don’t give up their ability to play other sports, and they might even miss the “secondary” games they used to play in high school or college.

If a regular Joe working in an office can switch career paths, why can’t an athlete? Why can’t athletes express interest in different opportunities in sports? After all, Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones will compete with the U.S. bobsledders in Sochi. Why not imagine what an athlete could do on a professional level in multiple sports?

Part of the Wilson-Rangers deal is a publicity ploy, absolutely. But it also shows that athletes aren’t limited. There are a lot of opportunities and possibilities — enough that Preller can suggest that one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks just might play baseball again someday. It’s crazy, but he can say it because, not too long ago, Bo Jackson did it.

Think about it: a second athlete becoming an All-Star in two major American sports. Is it a long shot? It’s the longest of shots, but it’s fun to think about. Really fun. Besides, it’s not the wildest suggestion a sports columnist or analyst could make.

Just a few days ago, many of them were wondering if Super Bowl XLVIII could be the best one ever.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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