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Kyle Farnsworth's Weird Journey from Major League Baseball to Semi-Pro Football

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterMay 12, 2015

AP Images

"I remember the takedown."

Orlando Phantoms owner and coach Michael Torres isn’t talking about football. No, he is speaking of a random summer day in Cincinnati back in 2003.

He is talking about the day he watched a young beardless pitcher by the name of Kyle Farnsworth lift fellow pitcher Paul Wilson to the sky before casting him downward through the perfectly manicured grass, past the mantle and into the earth’s core.

It was a magnificent collision—a hit far too perfect and destructive for baseball. It had to lead to something beyond the haymakers and suspensions that followed.

Both Torres and Farnsworth went about their lives. Torres went on to purchase a football team that would lose money each year. He admitted as such almost proudly, because it's never been about the money. It has always been about about providing an outlet for former Division I athletes, successful businessmen and anyone else searching for an authentic rush and a sense of camaraderie.

Farnsworth would go on to pitch for eight more major league teams—some more than once—through the 2014 season, and then major league teams stopped calling. After that, he stumbled upon a tryout for a Florida Football Alliance team.

He found football and football found him. He traded his glove for a pair of pads and an enormous MLB paycheck for the No. 90.

“Maybe I’m just weird trying to do this at my age,” Farnsworth said, laughing at his own self-reflection and genuine curiosity. “But it’s just me. I believe I can compete at certain levels. I want to see how high I can compete at certain things.”

Still, one can’t help but ask one simple question.

Why?

Why would a flamethrower who regularly made radar guns weep take a career detour at the age of 39? Why would a man who pocketed more than $30 million throwing baseballs for 15 years put his livelihood and dream at risk for a grand total of zero dollars?

Why would Kyle Farnsworth, after a satisfying Major League Baseball career, play semi-pro football and not tell a soul outside of family and a few friends? That includes his own agent.

"After the Astros let me go," Farnsworth said. "I had nothing else to do."

Image via Orlando Phantoms

Being weird and being bored will not suffice, although it’s a start. To understand this unusual career transformation, one must enter the mind of the man whose passion may have actually existed somewhere beyond his lifelong craft.

This is a football player with a football mindset and a football work ethic. But the golden arm sort of got in the way.

“Baseball just got me first,” Farnsworth stated multiple times while explaining the birth of his football career. As strange as that might seem, he makes a rather convincing point.

“When I was out on the mound, it was my mound and my game. I didn’t take crap from anybody,” Farnsworth added. “I was going to come after you, and if you didn’t like it, I was 60 feet, six inches away. It’s the same way I approach quarterbacks and running backs.”

Call it rare. Call it boredom. Call it an eccentric way for a fitness freak to stay in freakish shape. Call it a midlife crisis if you dare, but goodness, do so on your own terms. 

Whatever the motivation, this unexpected experiment has bred positive results. It has come with bumps, bruises and, above all, production.

Despite not having played football since ninth grade at his Georgia high school, Farnsworth finished with a team-high 11 sacks during the regular season for the Phantoms. He grew as a football player over the course of the season. He grew a tremendous beard.

He also, well, grew.

Since you last saw him in the majors, Farnsworth has added roughly 15 pounds to an already impressive frame. This should send shivers down Paul Wilson’s spine.

Although his previous employers wanted him staying far away from heavy lifting to maintain maximum flexibility—especially with his upper body—Farnsworth has since tweaked his workout regimen. His twice-a-week chest exercises, deadlifts and clean-and-jerks have transformed his body into a 245-pound block of explosive dad mass.

Head coach and owner Michael Torres
Head coach and owner Michael TorresImage via Orlando Phantoms

“He looks and moves like he’s 28 years old,” Torres said.

Even before Farnsworth embraced his new training regimen, the potential was obvious. As one of 116 players who signed up for the Phantoms’ tryouts, Farnsworth flashed athleticism long before anyone realized who he was. Torres saw it firsthand as he worked out the linebackers and defensive linemen.

While the name and even the face seemed familiar, Torres wasn’t able to put it all together then. He didnt care to, either. It wasn’t his chief concern. At the time, he simply couldn’t get over the fact that he was watching a 39-year-old with a limited football background make it look almost easy at times.

Even most of his future teammates didn’t know. Only one, a former college baseball player, recognized the pitcher—but he kept it quiet, per Farnsworth’s request. The rest simply marveled at the newbie who looked like he belonged.

Farnsworth kept the secret concealed for as long as he could. He didn’t talk to Torres about baseball until the middle part of the season, although by that time, the coach knew. Farnsworth didn’t want to be a distraction or the center of attention; he wanted to be viewed and evaluated just like everyone else.

“I kept it between my family and close friends, and I’m glad it stayed a secret as long as it did,” Farnsworth said. “I didn’t want them thinking that I made the team because of who I was. I wanted to earn the respect I needed to make it. I’m glad Coach and everybody else let me earn it. I wanted to be one of the guys.”

Image via Orlando Phantoms

Word spread. As the now-bearded man terrorized opposing quarterbacks weekly, the locker room learned of his true identity and occupation. Even his warm-up routine, which was more advanced and elaborate than anything the players and coaches had previously seen, prompted many to wonder where the focused guy wearing the headphones came from.

“A lot of guys gravitated to him before they knew who he was,” Torres said. “It’s because of how he acts.”

As he settled into the team and the team settled into him, comfort came. The nicknames quickly followed. Depending on who you ask, Farnsworth acquired three different names with the Phantoms in his short career: NASCAR, Big Grizzly and CrossFit.

NASCAR and Big Grizzly were bestowed upon him because of that beard, which paints the picture of a man who’s too old to be playing football given the way grey has crept in. CrossFit was given to him because of the way he prepares and takes cares of his body—in a way, it’s the anti-NASCAR.

These nicknames were followed by sacks, batted balls and rapid development.

“He’s gotten so much better,” Torres said. “He was too high and slightly off on a few technical things early on. But he’s a student of the game. And being in the major leagues for so many years, he understands how to perfect his craft.”

While football has become a focus, it hasn’t become the only focus. The team practices once a week and typically plays games on Saturdays. Given the fact that most of the players on the roster work normal day jobs, this is about all the Phantoms can reasonably muster. When his teammates go to work, so does Farnsworth. He seamlessly morphs back into his old profession.

The bullpen sessions are still a part of Farnsworths weekly routine. Teaming up with some pitchers far younger than him, he has kept his arm in shape. This is a calculated effort to stay young and, of course, stay in shape.

He may not throw as hard as he once did, although it hasn’t stopped him from wanting to do it a little while longer.

DENVER, CO - MAY 03:  Relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth #44 of the New York Mets works against the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning at Coors Field on May 3, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Farnsworth collected the loss as he up the game winning walk off two ru
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

“I definitely have not closed that door,” Farnsworth said. “One of my goals is to get to 900 games pitched and I am seven away from that. That would be an awesome mark to reach. If no one calls, that’s the way it is. But I’m going to keep myself ready.”

Perhaps that goal has been placed on the front burner once more. This past Saturday, the Phantoms’ season ended with a 21-7 loss to their rival, the Orlando Rage, in the playoffs. Even in the defeat, Farnsworths play loomed large. He closed out his year with another sack and two tackles for loss.

After the game ended, Farnsworth took off his pads and started giving thanks. He took to Twitter and commended individual Phantoms teammates for their efforts. He applauded their play and also the way they welcomed him. He was also thankful for the opportunity.

@Orlando_Phantom top notch guys and organization from top to bottom! Thanks for welcoming in the family! You guys are awesome!

— Kyle Farnsworth (@24_7Farnsworth) May 10, 2015

It certainly has the look and feel of a goodbye—like the end of a chapter—although Torres and Farnsworth have already started planning an encore. While a major league comeback is still the goal, Farnsworth’s second career might only just be blossoming.

“He loves football. He wants to play football,” Torres said. “This is not a one-and-done thing. He has expressed interest to continue playing.”

It has come to this—the question to rule all questions: Paint the corner black at 97 miles per hour for a game-ending strikeout or hit a quarterback cleanly without warning from his blindside?

As the professional-pitcher-turned-bearded-defensive-end ponders his answer, 2003 comes back into focus. An airborne Paul Wilson hits the ground once more, even harder this time. A full stadium erupts; a 15-year journey flashes before his eyes.

The man who provided us with the greatest hit the game of baseball has ever seen—the man holding onto his dream to appear in just seven more MLB games—finally breaks the dead air after thinking it through.

“Tackling a quarterback when he doesn’t see it coming.”

Adam Kramer is a National lead Writer at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand.

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