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Early commitment to one sport short-changes kids

Jun 24, 2014 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

Bouncing off the train and walking into Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday, the two brothers in front of us wore jerseys of their baseball heroes.

One said Gwynn, the other said Mauer.

Earlier that morning, the conversation with the baseball dad at the hotel revealed that his kids, in their traveling baseball uniforms at breakfast, and kids his kids hung with, and his daughter, were already worried about selecting "their sport."

None of the youngsters in the group had yet reached age 13.

But the parents at the hotel talked about how far behind their kids would be if they didn't commit to "their sports" at a young age. Kids who don't travel, they said, have no chance in Minnesota middle school sports, and their travel sports and practices are nearly year-round for "their sport".

The one sport discussion was an amazing contrast to the early sports careers of Tony Gwynn, who called San Diego home for his entire college and Major League Baseball career, and Joe Mauer, who played his high school baseball at of Cretin-Derham Hall High School, just minutes away from Target Field, where he now plays with the Twins, the only team he has ever played for.

Both Gwynn, who died last week after a long battle with cancer, and Mauer, were successful multi-sport athletes in high school, and Gwynn played both basketball and baseball for San Diego State University.

Gwynn is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Mauer is on his way.

At a time our kids feel pressure to excel in just one sport (or even just two sports), it's refreshing to recall that Mauer and Gwynn were three sport athletes. Both played football, basketball and baseball and were successful in their early, pre-pro careers.

You could argue that Mauer knew very early that he would end up playing professional baseball. He struck out just once during his four-year high school career. But he worked at and excelled in football as well. He was the 2001 national football Gatorade player of the year and turned down a football scholarship to Florida State. Mauer also was all-state in basketball.

Gwynn owned the single-game, season and career basketball assist records at San Diego State University and was drafted by the San Diego Clippers of the NBA before deciding to make baseball his professional craft.

Baseball is a numbers game, and you could fill another column with stats of Gwynn and Mauer, two revered baseball superstars.

But the stats also say that a growing number of youth are making a mistake in believing that selecting a single sport is a sure ticket to a college or pro opportunity.

Coaches at Fremont County High Schools should emphasize -- and most do -- for both boys and girls, that there are significant, lifelong rewards in playing in three and even four sports during their high school years. The stats prove that.

Even new Wyoming Cowboy head football coach Craig Bohl says athletes need to get back to the days of playing three sports in high school. That is great advice.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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