Imagine this scene: A college football player, a prominent one who plays for a very prominent program, temporarily trades his pads and helmet for a bat and a different kind of helmet.
He goes from regularly playing in front of 100,000 fans to practicing in front of, well, no one other than his new teammates and coaches. If he chooses baseball over football, there will be days when there aren’t any more than 200 people in the stands.
Welcome to Shea Patterson’s world.
The quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines was making good on the contract he signed over the summer with the Texas Rangers, who used their second-to-last pick (39th round) on Patterson even though he hadn’t played baseball since his junior year of high school.
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He spent most of his spring break in the Rangers’ minor-league camp this week, arriving March 2 and working out through Thursday. He received a brief taste of pro ball over a few days in July with Triple A Round Rock, but the past week offered him a glimpse of what life as a minor-league ballplayer is like.
“The day-in and day-out ground that these guys go through, it’s humbling to even be a part of it,” Patterson said. “Just watching these guys work and to see and hear that they do this every single day of the year, it’s admirable and something I’m just very proud to be a part of for a short period of time.”
Patterson, an infielder, signed a six-year contract with the Rangers that came with a $25,000 bonus and a continuing-education provision for amounts not covered by his football scholarship.
The first two years of the deal allow him to put his primary focus on football, though with some baseball when his schedule permits. How the final four years of the contract play out depends on how his football career plays out.
Patterson chose to return to Michigan for his senior season after starting all 13 games and leading the Wolverines to a 10-3 record. He passed for 2,600 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and added 273 rushing yards and two TDs.
Patterson, who transferred to Michigan from Ole Miss, is going to let football take him as far as he can go. For starters, he is expected to be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. If he does play in the NFL, the Rangers have the option of asking him to report or to recoup the signing bonus.
“Then, I’ll see,” said Patterson, who played as a high school freshman at Hidalgo High School near the Texas-Mexico border before transferring to schools in Louisiana and Florida.
“The option to have this opportunity definitely opens doors. But I’m full go ahead for Michigan football and getting ready for the season, and whatever happens after that, we’ll look more into it.”
Patterson said that the rust started to come off his baseball skills after a few days, though he felt at home taking grounders throughout his stay. The right-handed hitter will need some work at the plate.
However, the Rangers didn’t hold him back from anything.
“They’ve thrown me out there with everybody else and are just telling me to go be myself and have fun,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.”
The Rangers like Patterson’s athletic ability and his makeup. Not just anybody can be a top-level quarterback and leader, and those skills translate to baseball.
There is a value every time he gets to be around baseball, but to be around all the teaching that goes on in spring training is especially valuable.
“He gets to be down here around our guys and our coaches, and see our process,” farm director Matt Blood said. “It’s always good to be able to get some baseball activity and scratch that itch, but I think it’s more about him coming and seeing what it’s like to be a Ranger and a professional baseball player.
“And for our guys it’s great to have him. He’s got a really good mentality and makeup, and he helps our guys, too. He’s looked good. He’s out there, he’s giving really good effort, he’s a good athlete, and he’s having a great time being here.”
Next up for Patterson was a quick trip to California to see his little brother play 7-on-7 football before returning to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the resumption of classes Monday.
Spring practice starts March 17, and the highlight of the Wolverines’ schedule is a Nov. 30 home game against Ohio State. Even though he was born in Toledo, Ohio, Patterson is not fond of the Buckeyes and wants revenge after they rolled Michigan, 62-39, last season.
The Big Ten title game could follow, and a bowl game almost certainly will. Prepping for the NFL draft will occupy most of his time next spring, though he might be asked to fit in a week at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
His experiences this week certainly haven’t soured him on baseball.
“I have a major love for baseball,” Patterson said. “Just to even get this opportunity – obviously, it comes with an understanding that right now my goal is to pursue football – if there’s any opportunity after that to play baseball with this organization, it would be a dream come true.”