MLB: Giants’ DeRosa went from college QB to the major league plate
By Andrew Baggarly
San Jose Mercury News
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — What is Mark DeRosa’s enduring memory from his two seasons as the starting quarterback at Penn, a time in his life that included an undefeated run to an Ivy League title?
“My God,” the Giants’ new No. 5 hitter said. “That there were so many practices.”
Two-a-days. Grueling conditioning camps. Studying the playbook. Plus baseball commitments. Plus a course load that didn’t include any jock-friendly classes.
And did we mention they don’t award athletic scholarships in the Ivy League?
DeRosa left after his redshirt sophomore season to sign with the Atlanta Braves. He’s more than a few credits short of a business degree, from the Wharton School at Penn, and at 35, the odds are he’ll never make it back.
But he received the education he needed to succeed in his chosen field.
“In a big moment, a playoff game, I always tell myself that’s when my football mentality comes through,” said DeRosa, who signed a two-year, $12 million contract to hit in the middle of the Giants’ lineup. “I feel in that moment that I’m mentally tougher than the next guy.”
Some common traits exist among college quarterbacks who pursued a career in the major leagues. They have experience processing vast amounts of information. They’ve served as a conduit between players and the coaching staff.
They led the huddle and called the signals. And if they didn’t make rapid adjustments, they’d find themselves on the bench — or pounded into the turf.
It isn’t a surprise that major league scouting directors covet them, often taking the wildest of draft fliers to acquire them. Last June, the Angels took Washington quarterback and prime NFL prospect Jake Locker with a 10th-round pick and signed him to a contract that secured his baseball rights for six years — even though he hadn’t played on an organized diamond since high school.
“There are a couple of things that can be attractive about a guy with that background,” Giants GM Brian Sabean said. “Most are team-oriented. You really have to sell out for the team. They have less fear than other people. You put them in pressure situations and they’re apt to perform.”
No recent college quarterback has had more major league success than Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who famously lost his starting job at Tennessee to Peyton Manning. Coincidentally, Helton’s teammate, Rockies outfielder Seth Smith, was the three-year backup to Peyton’s brother, Eli Manning, at Ole Miss.
“Never took a snap under center,” Smith said. “I had two or three at receiver, though.”
The Giants have two other former quarterbacks in spring training. Stanford’s Brian Johnson, who still holds the record for the longest pass play in the Big Game, has joined the scouting department after playing parts of eight big league seasons as a reserve catcher. And fellow Stanford alum Joe Borchard is in minor league camp, hoping to win a job at Triple-A Fresno.
“I always saw parallels to the catching position,” Johnson said. “You’re the one tying the game together.”
Quarterbacks don’t always go on to stellar baseball careers, though. Borchard, 31, is a .205 hitter in parts of six seasons.
“A lot of being a quarterback is preparing for the next down,” Borchard said. “Rather than trying to do too much, you understand you’ll have another down or set of downs.”
Does that make it easier to lay off that outside slider?
“Yeah,” Borchard said with a laugh. “You’d think so, right?”
DeRosa never thought about the next set of downs. He described himself as the Ivy League’s biggest 6-foot-1 risk taker.
“I could fit the ball in tight spots,” DeRosa said. “I always felt I could make a play. That was my detriment as well. I threw a lot of interceptions.”
Including two in one game to Darren Sharper, who went from William & Mary to an All-Pro career in the NFL.
“That’s the first time I thought, ’Whoa, I’ve gotta throw the ball before (the receiver) makes his cut,’ “ DeRosa said with a laugh.
Over the past two seasons, DeRosa is the only major leaguer to log at least 300 innings at four different positions — second base, third base, left field and right field. Expect him to play first base this season, too.
The well-traveled free agent should become an immediate leader in a Giants clubhouse where the brightest stars are also some of their youngest players.
“If there’s any way that being a quarterback helped me, it’s being able to understand personalities,” DeRosa said. “You realize it needs to be a collective effort. You can’t do it by yourself.
“Offensively, we have to form a bond. We have to believe that the guy behind you will have the right approach.”
And if that happens? DeRosa would like nothing better than to see the Giants keep college football on the back pages in October.
“To be there and feel that little crisp in the air, hear the fans on their feet, see everybody on the top step the whole game. “& That’s competition at its highest level,” he said. “That’s what I love about it.”