TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Drew Henson walked out of the clubhouse and into the sunshine, standing in his new Yankees” pinstripes, exactly where he wanted to be.
Football was a job. Baseball is a love.
“When I”m 40 and have kids,” he said, “I”ll tell them I could have been a good football player but I went with what my dream was.”
He traded his No. 7 Michigan jersey for a No. 69 Yankees” uniform, following the path of Lou Gehrig, who went to Columbia on a football scholarship, then helped lead the Yankees to their first seven World Series titles.
He gave up the chance to win this season”s Heisman Trophy and the opportunity to be the No. 1 pick in next year”s NFL draft for a life that starts in the minor leagues, where he”ll spend the summer in a territory where he has been the enemy, at least in the eyes of Ohio State fans.
His mom, pop and little sister made the trip from Michigan to watch him start the journey and watched his news conference at the Yankees” minor league complex. He has no doubt that he”ll be triumphant.
“Everything I competed in in my life, that I devoted all my effort to, has been successful,” he said. “I don”t expect that to change.”
If that”s the case, a year from now he”ll be getting ready for his first opening day as New York”s third baseman.
That was the goal when the Yankees agreed late Friday night to a $17 million, six-year contract.
Henson, 21, could have been an NFL star, but that”s not what he wanted.
Pro football can be a grind, with five or six days of practice between games, with cold weather and mud, with players who must adapt to the “system” of whatever coach is brought in.
For Henson, baseball brings back memories of spring and summer in the sun, of individuality. Football players work out in the morning, go to meetings, memorize game plans and opponents.
By midsummer, baseball players are used to a different routine, They get to the ballpark in early afternoon, take batting practice, do their running and throwing, then play and head out for a bite or a drink.
They must be “up” for a game every day, but not get so “up” that it will exhaust them over the grind of 6 weeks of spring training, 162 games over 26 weeks and then a possible four-week postseason with three intense series.
It wasn”t right for John Elway, who played in the Yankees” farm system and left for the Denver Broncos.
It wasn”t right for Josh Booty, who failed with the Florida Marlins and entered this year”s NFL draft.
But it was what Henson wanted.
“Getting up every day and you”re knowing you”re going to compete, play a game that counts,” he said. “You get to sleep in in the morning, play in the afternoon in beautiful weather.”
Brian Cashman, the Yankees” general manager, thinks Henson was a baseball player who just happened to play football, too. The former quarterback agreed.
“From a mental standpoint, I think a little more like a baseball player than a football player,” he said.
There were a few attractions to life as a quarterback that caused him to deliberate after the Yankees” reacquired him from Cincinnati last Wednesday. But he didn”t want to wait a year until the NFL draft approached, when the chance to be taken by the expansion Houston Texans as the first pick would havebeen more immediate.
“Because of the upfront dollars in football and the opportunity to be a franchise quarterback, the decision would have been more difficult than it was right now,” he said.