In the 40th round of the 1969 MLB Draft, the Baltimore Orioles selected a high school pitcher from St. Paul, Minnesota. He did not sign, accepting a college scholarship to stay in the cold at the University of Minnesota.
"We didn't have any money to travel around to these schools and look at them," Dave Winfield remembers. "There was no internet to see what other people did. They were five miles away -- the University of Minnesota. My mother and other family members had gone there, and I knew a couple guys from the community who played basketball. Minnesota was the first one to say we'll give you a scholarship. I said, 'I'm in!' People ask, 'That's how it went?' 'Yeah, that's how it went.'"
Winfield, 64, was part of the Gophers' 1972 Big Ten basketball championship team, but he became a household name in baseball in 1973 when Minnesota reached the semifinals of the College World Series. Winfield won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player Award and was named to the All-Tournament Team as a pitcher.
Winfield was selected No. 4 overall in the 1973 MLB Draft by the Padres. He was also taken in the fifth round of the NBA Draft by the Hawks, the sixth round of the ABA Draft by the Utah Stars and the 17th round of the NFL Draft by the Vikings (even though he did not play football at Minnesota). He is one of four athletes selected in three leagues -- Noel Jenke, Mickey McCarty and Dave Logan are the others. Winfield skipped the minors and immediately joined the Padres as an outfielder in the summer of '73. He played 23 seasons, made 12 All-Star Games, won a World Series, slapped 3,110 hits, clocked 465 home runs, won seven Gold Gloves, claimed six Silver Sluggers and earned himself a plaque in Cooperstown.
Over the years, the idea of playing multiple sports at a high level has been lost to the trend of specialization at an earlier age.
"Unfortunately, our society does not allow the kids to play as many sports," Winfield says, speaking from Omaha at the College World Series on behalf of Capital One. "You want to play baseball, you have to do it all year round or you can't play for me. They do it in high school, travel ball. It's kind of an ugly situation. I would tell parents, if at a young age, a kid can play multiple sports -- girls or boys -- try to let them do that. Find out what they have a passion for, what they have a skill for, and maybe they'll avoid the burnout most people have if they only play one sport."
So would Winfield have been a better baseball player had he only committed to baseball?
"No," Winfield says emphatically. "I think it gave me the athletic prowess or skill set. I remember I would finish a basketball season with all the training and practice and jumping and running. I could outrun all these baseball players when I was done with basketball and I had great footwork. These skills are helpful to play any position. I played shortstop, growing up, and I pitched and played the outfield. Football makes you tough. It gives you that kind of constitution and mental approach. You combine all those things, you become the athlete I became instead of just training to become a baseball player. A lot of guys are baseball players today, but they're not really great athletes at all."
Winfield made his debut at 21 and retired at 44. His 1973 rookie season saw the debut of the designated hitter and his final 1995 season introduced the wild card. In reminiscing on the old days, Winfield pinpoints the similarities and differences.
"Let's just say today, I look at professional baseball: best job in the world," he says. "I looked at it that way in my era. Kids today, of course they'll make more money if they make it to the top. They play in better conditions -- all the fields, all the clubhouses -- it's a different kind of training, different kind of approach. I can't say that the guys necessarily have as much fun or hang around one another with the comradery that they used to because that isn't the same.
"Any era was good. I got to play against Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. I could go on and on. I wouldn't trade that era for anything. We played a different, tougher kind of baseball. You could slide into the base any way you want. You take too big of a swing, you might get a ball in the ribs or get knocked down in the batter's box. Rules and laws have changed in the sport, whether it's good, bad or indifferent. It's just a different era. There's a lot of great young kids playing together. I like what Bryce Harper does, I like Mike Trout, I like Clayton Kershaw. I could go on and on. I like these kids. They love what they're doing. Baseball is still important and it will continue to evolve."
Winfield, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001, acts like a proud father to Major League Baseball's modern players. He lauds the game, but he also challenges it to reach its full potential. When asked if Bryce Harper can make "baseball fun again," Winfield says it is not only on Harper, but for MLB and the MLBPA to come together to improve the image of the game.
One thing baseball does have going for it is safety. Although injuries are part of the game, MLB leaves its players, for the most part, in better standing than other standing than other leagues.
"All the football players in the NFL, when I see them after their short careers, they say, 'You know what, I should have kept playing baseball,'" Winfield says with a laugh. "I say, 'You're right.' Nobody in football or basketball plays 20 years. From my standpoint, I would tell kids baseball's a lot safer. You can play it longer and be healthy for the rest of your life. I won't say anything disparaging about other sports, but I'll say what's good about baseball."
Winfield mingled with some of those kids last week. An ambassador for the Capital One Cup, which provides athletic scholarship money to the collegiate programs performing at the highest level, Winfield was back at the College World Series, where his career got its first jump. His baseball career, that is.
Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.