It may not count in the standings, but all eyes were focused on George Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday afternoon as the New York Yankees played host to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
The Yankees did win the game, 8-3, but that was a mere formality. Even the best college teams are going to struggle against professional squads because of the talent disparity and the use of wood bats in the game. For his part, Winston went 0-for-2 at the plate, coming in as a replacement in left field in the fifth.
Winston's appearance in the game and New York's unofficial start to spring training made this one of the most talked about baseball events of the winter.
While his long-term future lies in football, Winston has brought a much-needed buzz to college baseball this spring because of his profile. He splits time between the outfield and pitching, as he did in Tuesday's game.
This was obviously a special attraction for fans in Florida, who took to the stadium to mob the star quarterback on a day when professional MLB stars like Brett Gardner were in the lineup and others, like Derek Jeter, were also in attendance.
There are more FSU fans at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to see Jameis Winston than there are Yankee fans. pic.twitter.com/cdTw2aJztn— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) February 25, 2014
Even though I mentioned Winston's long-term future is in football, Florida State football coach Jimbo Fisher seems to think that his star quarterback could split time between both sports if he really wanted to and entered the right situation (via Brendan Sonnone, Orlando Sentinel).
Jimbo Fisher on Jameis Winston playing pro baseball and football: "I think he definitely has ability, but it has to be the right situation."— Brendan Sonnone (@osfsu) February 25, 2014
Of course, even though he didn't get to play on the same field as most of the Yankees' biggest stars, that didn't mean Winston missed out on an opportunity to take a picture with two of the franchise's biggest icons (via SportsCenter).
Jameis Winston - in pinstripes - poses with Derek Jeter & Jorge Posada. FSU plays NYY today in exhibition game. pic.twitter.com/WdW3DKl2sR— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2014
Also before the game took place, Winston took a few hacks in the batting cage with fans and teammates watching.
FSU's 2 sport star, Famous Jameis Winston talking batting practice warming up for the Yankees. pic.twitter.com/Q7f8Jwq3xp— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) February 25, 2014
Jameis taking BP before the game pic.twitter.com/o4vJIF7Xob— FSU Baseball (@FSU_Baseball) February 25, 2014
Even though Winston was the focus of today's game, Fisher got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
FSU head football coach Jimbo Fisher throws a strike, but not from the mound. pic.twitter.com/zt1bamGxXQ— Kevin ODonnell Fox13 (@ODonnellFox13) February 25, 2014
After all the build-up, Winston finally entered the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, taking over in left field for D.J. Stewart. His first plate appearance came in the top of the sixth inning. The drama was all for naught, as Yankees pitcher Shane Greene got the two-sport star to ground out on a ball to second base.
Now batting, against the Yankees, number 44, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston... who grounded out to 2B. pic.twitter.com/L4IoD2DpI3— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 25, 2014
Jameis Winston needs some new lumber after this swing. pic.twitter.com/2R5CaV3yEC— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 25, 2014
Even though the at-bat didn't end in successful fashion, Sweeny Murti of WFAN New York noted that all anyone in attendance wanted to see was Winston make some kind of contact with the ball.
Jameis Winston just hit the most applauded spring training foul ball since Billy Crystal. Then he grounded out to second.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) February 25, 2014
Sometimes winning a Heisman Trophy and a national championship for a beloved college team in a sports-obsessed state like Florida has some perks, like getting a rousing ovation for a foul ball.
Winston did get a second at-bat in the eighth inning, but as David Waldstein of The New York Times said, it was hardly a banner moment for the biggest star in college sports.
Winston strikes out to end the inning. The equivalent of taking a sack on third down— David Waldstein (@DavidWaldstein) February 25, 2014
Despite some thought that Winston would pitch in the game, Bob Nightengale of USA Today noted that Florida State coach Mike Martin opted to not let Winston pitch because his arm was a little tender.
Jameis Winston wanted to pitch today against the #Yankees, but coach Mike Martin said he had a tender elbow after his last appearance.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 25, 2014
Winston's absence on the mound made for a rather uneventful conclusion to the game, since the only attraction left in the later innings, when the Yankees had taken control of things, was seeing the Heisman winner throw to professional hitters.
After the game was over, Winston was mobbed by fans and reporters. One of the most interesting things he said came from a question about why he still plays baseball (via Andrew Astleford, Sun Sports Florida).
Jameis Winston on why two sports appeal to him: "I grew up playing both. That's important to me ... so I just kept that dream going."— Andrew Astleford (@aastleford) February 25, 2014
Most of the time, two-sport stars are forced to choose between one or the other upon entering college because of time commitments. Good for Winston to keep doing both while he still can.
Winston also found meeting members of the Yankees to be quite the thrill in his young life, but not quite as good as winning the BCS title (via Joe Smith, Tampa Bay Times).
Despite being a preseason third-team All-American selection by Baseball America, Winston hasn't had a major impact on the team thus far. He's 1-for-1 with a single and walk in two games as a position player.
On the mound, Winston has made a bigger impact. He's strictly a reliever, appearing in three games covering four innings with no runs allowed on one hit, three strikeouts and one save.
Since his baseball future, if he wants to have one, is likely on the mound, it's a shame that Winston's arm wasn't cooperating enough to let him throw against the Yankees. That could have done a lot to enhance his MLB draft profile, though there is still a lot of work to do in that regard.
Instead, Winston can just take solace in knowing that he got two at-bats in an exhibition game against the Yankees and was the main attraction.
Note: Florida State stats courtesy of Seminoles.com
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