It’s the biggest game of Colin Kaepernick’s career; the stadium is packed as every eye refuses to blink out of fear they may miss something.
The attention of every man, woman, child and hovering seagull is focused squarely on his right arm for one pressure-packed throw.
Kaepernick takes the ball, cocks his arm back and fires. The ball spins and the laces whistle against the air as he throws a perfect strike to… home plate?
It may sound crazy, but this is a fairy tale that actually had a chance of coming true.
While by now everyone knows about Colin Kaepernick coming out of nowhere to lead the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII, what may surprise many to learn is that Kaepernick was actually drafted to be a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.
Sam Hughes, a former cross-checker in the Cubs’ amateur scouting department, thought he had found a diamond in the rough when he came across Kaepernick. "I looked at his arm action in a number of [football] games and talked to people who saw him play baseball in high school," Hughes said. "The way he competed as the Reno quarterback and his athleticism led us to the belief he could be a good professional pitcher."
Even though the last time Kaepernick pitched was in his senior year at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, the Cubs still took a flier on him in the 43rd round of MLB’s First-Year Player Draft in 2009. Kaepernick was 11-2 with a 1.27 ERA and threw two no-hitters during his senior year in high school. According to scouts, his fastball was clocked between 89 and 92 mph.
Tim Wilken, who was the Cubs’ Director of Scouting in 2009, said his NFL sources did not think Kaepernick would amount to much more than a potential Canadian Football League player. “The way it was described to me,” Wilken said, “was that his arm action was somewhat suspect -- kind of a slingy arm action with the football -- and they were leery of that.”
Thinking they would have the inside track to sign Kaepernick, the Cubs tried their best to persuade Kaepernick to play baseball. Yet, despite his football critics, Kaepernick appeared to have his mind set on only one goal.
Mick Tate, Kaepernick’s high school baseball coach, said that baseball did not stand much of chance in winning out with Colin. “There was never a chance he was going to sign a baseball contract from what I know," Tate said. “Colin was pretty set on his goals. He wanted to be a professional quarterback. He's done exactly what he's wanted to do. You've got to give the kid credit."
Still, the Cubs tried their best to persuade Kaepernick to pick baseball in the end. Sam Hughes explained that he probably made seven or eight phone calls to Colin and his father in a two-week period to try and make him change his mind.
The Cubs wanted him to sign and play rookie ball in June and July and then go back to school and graduate, before joining the club full-time in 2011. The Cubs even offered to pay for the rest of his education and give him a nice signing bonus.
“I was baffled that they had no interest,” Hughes said. “He could have played us, like, ‘Oh, let me find out if they’ll give me $50,000 or $100,000. That would be good spending money for the next year in college.’ He could have played that angle. But he showed a lot of maturity and focus. He was all about what he was trying to do on the football field... I would have flown all the way to Reno to watch him throw a bullpen,” said Hughes.
For the Cubs, they are now left to rely on the NFL prospect they did manage to pry away from football. Jeff Samardzija was a first-team All-American wide receiver at the University of Notre Dame. After racking up 1,249 yards receiving with 15 touchdowns in 2005, Samardzija was projected as a late-first or early second-round pick, but instead opted to sign with the Cubs who drafted him in the fifth-round in 2006.
As for Kaepernick, the 49ers’ first-year starter is currently waiting to play in the biggest game of his life (Super Bowl XLVII), his strikes just won’t be thrown from off the top of a pitcher’s mound. For Cubs’ fans, they are left to wonder what could have been. Might we all be talking about the young fireballer the Cubs have coming up this season?
Still, given his dominance in the NFL this season, it seems Kaepernick may have made the right choice after all.