Smith's road included baseball, football
A's left fielder served as Eli Manning's backup at Mississippi
One website called Seth Smith a two-sport star at the University of Mississippi. Not even close.
Another said he played two sports at Ole Miss. Hardly.
Oh, he was a quarterback on the Rebels' football rosters in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
So was Eli Manning, which probably explains why the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Smith can now be found in the Athletics' outfield.
"Football's always been my favorite sport. Still is," Smith said. "Funny, I always dreamed of playing college football and professional baseball. I never dreamed of playing in the NFL, so the way it worked out is probably ideal."
Smith was a baseball star at Hillcrest Christian High, where he also played football, basketball and soccer, and was drafted by the D-backs in the 48th round in 2001 but opted to go to college. Several schools recruited him, but Mississippi was the only one to let him play football and baseball.
"I didn't have any expectations as far as playing pro sports, which one I'd play," he said. "Once I was playing behind Eli -- once I was behind Eli and not playing -- and I started playing well on the baseball field, it kind of became evident that that would be the next step."
Smith was Manning's backup for those three seasons. He never threw a pass. Never even saw a snap. And he played baseball well enough from 2002-2004 to be selected to play for the 2003 USA Baseball team that won a silver medal at the 2003 Pan American Games. Smith batted .322 with four home runs and nine RBIs.
"Seth was a ..." Manning began, then laughed and started over. "The best way to describe his football skills is to say that he was a very good baseball player, and he chose the right profession."
Manning left Mississippi after the 2003 season, was the No. 1 pick by San Diego Chargers in the 2004 NFL Draft, and was traded in a pre-draft deal to the New York Giants for the No. 2 pick, quarterback Philip Rivers, and draft choices. Manning, who has two Super Bowl rings, had insisted before the draft that he wouldn't play for the Chargers, who have none.
"If I hadn't been drafted after my junior year," Smith said, "I would have had two more years of (football) eligibility and would have had a chance to take over (at quarterback)."
The Rockies gave him a better chance, picking him in the second round in 2004.
"I couldn't turn down an opportunity like that," he said. "My college football career didn't really work out -- well, it's tough to say it didn't work out. Things change, I guess. But I wouldn't change anything."
He moved quickly through the Rockies' Minor League system, but getting to the Majors was delayed due to shoulder surgery.
"I got hurt the end of August and didn't get activated for the first time until Sept. 16," Smith said. "Literally two weeks later, I was in the playoffs, and a couple of weeks after that I was in the World Series. That's all I'd known. We joked that it would only go downhill from there."
It did. The Rockies fell to third in 2008, were knocked out of the 2009 playoffs in the first round, finished in third and fourth places the next two years. Smith was traded to the Athletics last January.
"Bit of an adjustment," he said. "New pitchers, new ballparks, stuff I'm still trying to get used to. But it's baseball -- same distance to the pitcher's mound and all."
Does Smith ever think of what might have been had he pursued a career as an NFL quarterback?
Smith laughed. "I'd have a 9-to-5 job," he said.
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.