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Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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FSU’s Winston now eyes baseball success

TAMPA — Players for the Florida State University baseball team are insistent. Jameis Winston, beloved teammate, is just one of the guys.

But he’s also a guy with his own police security guard.

He’s a guy who’s in constant demand for autographs and photos.

And he’s a guy who should have the USF Baseball Stadium filled to the brim at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the No. 2-ranked Seminoles (8-1) open a two-game set against the University of South Florida Bulls (9-2).

“I have never seen any of our players get this kind of attention – ever,’’ FSU coach Mike Martin said.

Then again, there have been few players with Winston’s overall skill set.

In baseball, he’s a relief pitcher whose fastball can approach the mid-90s. In football, he won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman quarterback while leading the Seminoles (14-0) to the program’s third national championship in January.

Whether it’s realistic, given the offseason demands placed upon NFL quarterbacks, Winston still harbors dreams of becoming a dual-sport professional athlete, a latter-day Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders.

“I always had the mentality, ‘You can do anything you put your mind to,’ ” Winston said.

Even the improbable.

Winston, who has a 0.00 ERA this season in four relief appearances, plus a 1.000 batting average at the plate (2-for-2), will play baseball for FSU without sacrificing anything in spring football. He might miss the occasional baseball game, but Martin said he works well with football coach Jimbo Fisher, who is equally supportive of his star player’s versatility.

“Jameis considers himself a competitor and an athlete, whatever sport he’s in,’’ said Fisher, who began his college career as a scholarship baseball player. “He loves to have pressure on his back. He has a great passion for both sports. He can process information at a high rate.

“He never misses a (spring football) practice. All the offseason work we do, he participates in it. He puts the time in for both sports. It’s not like he plays one and forgets the other. He’s a unique person with the ability to do that.’’

Winston, a 15th-round selection of the Texas Rangers in 2012, could be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. He says he wants to play two more football seasons at FSU – delaying his NFL payday, although he could obviously switch those plans.

Baseball, meanwhile, is his current passion.

“This is pretty much unprecedented stuff,’’ ESPN football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “Florida State is a team with designs on winning the College World Series. Can you imagine getting to Omaha, Florida State goes to Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, trying to close it down? I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that before.

“But we haven’t seen many guys like Jameis, either.’’

Martin and Fisher said they give no thought to the worst fear for Seminole fans – a baseball injury that affects Winston’s football career.

“You start worrying about injuries and that’s when they occur,’’ Fisher said. “He just has to play the game. And the fact is, Jameis hit his highest (velocity as a pitcher) last year, when he was in spring football.’’

“You can’t tell him not to slide and you can’t tell him not to run into that padded wall,’’ Martin said. “Jaboo (Winston’s nickname, pronounced Jay-boo) is wide open when he’s playing baseball. Of course, he’s wide open playing football. We would never do anything to overuse him. He just fits in really well with us.’’

By all accounts, despite his high-profile football status, Winston is the ideal baseball teammate.

“We can rip on him a little bit and he gives it right back to us,’’ Seminoles pitcher Brandon Leibrandt said. “He’s an amazing talent, a freak of nature.’’

“He always has energy, every single day,’’ Seminoles outfielder D.J. Stewart said. “I don’t know where it comes from. He’s so busy. He’s bringing the same energy to baseball that he did in football. Hopefully, we get that energy from the national title and bring one home for baseball.’’

Martin, who once coached Sanders when the player ran a leg of the 4x100-meter relay between games of a baseball double-header, won’t put anything past Winston.

“Deion was probably the best athlete to come through Florida State since I’ve been there,’’ Martin said. “The guy could do anything. But Jaboo contributes more to his baseball team than Deion did. You can figure out football for yourself.

“They are both great competitors. We’ve seen Jameis taking his (football) team down the field in the final minute. It’s the same determination when it’s just him and the batter. I think he has a great chance to be the next two-way major-leaguer. He’s just a rare breed.’’

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