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Football trumps fall ball for 2001 trio

By Alan Eskew

Crosby
Roscoe Crosby
Photo: Mel Bailey
KANSAS CITY–Outfielder Roscoe Crosby, a second-round pick in 2001, is not the first two-sport star drafted and signed by the Royals. And with Bo Jackson lurking in club history, he’ll have a challenge to become the best.

His talent made the Royals one of the latest teams to take a chance on two-sport athletes like Crosby.

The 2001 baseball draft class included such football players as Crosby, a wide receiver this fall at Clemson, Texas running back Cedric Benson and UCLA cornerback Matthew Ware. Benson signed as a 12th-round pick of the Dodgers while Ware signed with the Mariners, who drafted him in the 21st round. All three signed pro baseball contracts.

All three have also seen significant playing time as college football freshmen. Benson, with his dreadlocks, baseball ties and Longhorns uniform, evokes comparisons to Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner who played in the Phillies organization and now plays for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. Benson didn’t play after signing for a $250,000 bonus, though he reported to the Dodgers’ facility at Vero Beach, Fla., for a short time.

Benson has had as much of an impact as any true freshman in the country, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of his first three starts for the Longhorns. For the season, he was leading Texas with 682 yards and seven touchdowns on 155 carries (a 4.4 per carry average). The same power-speed combination that attracted baseball scouts to him–the Dodgers rated both tools at the top of the 2-to-8 scale–make him an explosive running back.

"Cedric has surprised us with how well he’s done over this three-week span," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "I think the challenge of starting has put him back in a mode like he was in high school. He didn’t start out well at Oklahoma State (his first start), but after the first two series at Oklahoma State he’s played well."

Ware earned a starting spot as UCLA’s cornerback during practice in August, opposite Twins minor leaguer Ricky Manning, a 22nd-round pick in 1999. Ware signed with the Mariners later in the month but has excelled for the Bruins, leading the team with five interceptions while making 22 tackles. Both Ware and Manning intend to report to extended spring training when classes end in May.

Slow Baseball Start

Crosby’s signing bonus is the highest of the trio of ’01 signees, and the same might be said for his ceiling. Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier signed Crosby, considered one of the best high school wide receivers in the country last year, to a $1.75 million bonus, but permitted him to play football at Clemson. Crosby received a $750,000 bonus up front and will receive $250,000 each year through 2005 if he continues to play baseball.

"You know what you’re getting into and hope it (an injury) doesn’t happen," Ladnier said of picking a two-sport athlete. "I read the Clemson box scores every Sunday."

Crosby already has suffered two injuries, a bruised knee and a broken nose, causing him to miss two games. He became the first true freshman to start the opener on offense for Clemson since 1994, and caught a pass on Clemson’s first play of the season. He had nine catches for 154 yards in the first eight games, nothing like the numbers he put up at Union (S.C.) High, where he had 77 catches for 1,590 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior. He led Union to consecutive state titles.

If Crosby, who is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, opted to play only baseball, he would have likely been a top 10 pick. Crosby did not sign until July 23, and because Clemson football practices began in early August, he did not play professional baseball this year. He worked out at Haines City, Fla., where the Royals have a Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club, and reported to short-season Spokane in the Northwest League but didn’t play before reporting to Clemson.

Ladnier said Royals’ roving minor league coaches and strength and conditioning trainers would make Clemson a stop next spring to work with Crosby. He will begin his professional career next May.

"We’re going to try to have him in playing shape when he finishes his final spring class," Ladnier said.

Ladnier said they could send him to Class A Burlington in the Midwest League, but it would be "more realistic to have him a week or so at extended spring since he hasn’t played."

Ladnier said Crosby has the potential to be an impact player in the majors. The Royals, however, face the task of speeding up his development if he continues to play college football. Ladnier did not say the time away from baseball is retarding his progress, but acknowledged it does not help.

"He’s missing quality at-bats," Ladnier said. "Every at-bat is a step to the major leagues."

Ladnier compares Crosby’s situation to Adam Dunn, who vaulted from the minors to the Reds outfield this season. Dunn was a quarterback at the University of Texas who fully committed to baseball in spring training, 1999. This year, he hit a combined 51 home runs between Double-A, Triple-A and Cincinnati.

"Look at the success of Adam Dunn," Ladnier said. "Once he gave up football, he flourished. That is the most recent and closest example (of two-sport athletes)."

DRAFT DOTS

• Two Yankees draftees, outfielder Brandon Jones and righthander Tate Wallis, didn’t sign and are playing college football. Oklahoma wide receiver Jones, a 28th-round pick, had caught two passes for 16 yards and returned seven punts for 150 yards. Wallis is taking a redshirt year at Southern Methodist.

Seth Smith, the Diamondbacks’ 48th-round pick, is taking a redshirt year on Mississippi’s football team and is part of the Rebels’ 10th-rated baseball recruiting class as an outfielder.

• The Dodgers are waiting to see if Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger, who doesn’t play college baseball, will turn to baseball when his college gridiron career ends. They drafted Bollinger in the 50th round for the second straight year.

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