With the NFL draft last weekend, this got us to thinking about what type of professional athlete would you want to be?
Specifically, if you could supernaturally go back and infuse your DNA with the skills, speed, size, and intangibles to play a certain position in a certain sport that would allow you to have a sustainable career (longer than the average career in that sport, but with no guarantee on your overall star-power, talent level, and earning power at the highest level), what would you choose? Below, the staff of The Comeback chime in.
Joe Lucia – This is easy: a shortstop.
There are several reasons for this. One, the shortstop is usually the best defender on the field and not limited to that position. Plenty of shortstops get converted to other positions when there’s a logjam. If you’re a first baseman, your options are limited. At shortstop, there are many more options once your skills start to diminish.
Teams also carry multiple middle infielders on their roster, so there are more jobs available.
Plus, there’s the whole “awesome MLB pension” thing. You have a better chance at getting to the majors as a shortstop, and once there, you only need a cup of coffee to be taken care of for life. More openings + more options = easy choice for me.
Besides, when’s the last time you saw a fat shortstop?
Alex Putterman – I’ll say shortstop. As a childhood Derek Jeter acolyte, I totally bought into the made-to-order “shortstop for the New York Yankees” mystique (which, in retrospect, was absurd because Jeter was the Yanks’ first great shortstop since Phil Rizzuto, but whatever). I LOVED the cheesy-as-hell story about Jeter telling his elementary school teacher he would play shortstop for the Yankees and being laughed at.
OK, sorry for that digression into Derek Jeter worship. But shortstop is the coolest position on the field. He calls the shots, takes the throws, wins the awards. I always tried to play short in Little League, but that would usually end once the coach saw me throw. I finally got to live my dream in college, when I self-appointed myself shortstop of my intramural team, and I think if I could genetically infuse myself with agility, a strong arm, grace and charisma, I would try my hand at a slightly higher level.
Andrew Bucholtz – I think I’d take soccer wingback. It seems so much easier to sustain a long soccer career and maintain your skills as you age as a defender, whether that’s centrally or on the wing, and wingback is so much more fun to play because of the ability to move up and get involved in the offense at times. On defense, you get to use your brain and your experience to shut people down, and on offense, you get to use your creativity, so it’s rewarding from multiple perspectives. It also comes with less running than your typical midfielder, less focus on your stats than a striker, and less blame when things go wrong than a keeper.
From Roberto Carlos to Gary Neville, there are a ton of different styles that can succeed at wingback, but once you prove to be effective there, you can be effective for over a decade. I always admired wingbacks and loved playing the position, and I think it would be a great position to be tailored for. (I’d definitely want to be tailored towards the Roberto Carlos side of that mold, though. Offense and free kicks are fun!)
Ian Casselberry – (Ed. note: Ian submitted the follow answer after admitting “I was going to say shortstop too, so dang it.”) This might not be the smartest choice in terms of career longevity, given what we now know about consistently violent collisions in football. It’s probably not a good choice for career options either, since the position has sort of been phased out over the past decade or so. But I would love to be a fullback, one of those bowling-ball bruisers who leads the way and wipes out the linebacker or safety to clear a path for the tailback. Get a few short-yardage carries for those crucial first-downs and the occasional touchdown.
The best fullbacks also show some finesse and quickness, able to catch passes out of the backfield and occasionally surprise down the field on a wheel route, like Tom Rathman did with those great 49ers teams. Occasionally, fullbacks get those shining moments too, a la Cory Schlesinger in the 1994 Orange Bowl, finding a crease and emerging from the pile for a long touchdown run. And with the right coach and system, maybe there would also be a chance to become a feature back. But mostly, it would be about getting a running start and hitting somebody.
I realize I’m probably harkening back to a bygone era of football, and nowadays would be relegating myself to an athletic career of being a blocking back and special-teamer. And I’d likely have plenty of appointments with a neurologist in my future, which is kind of a buzzkill to this fantasy. Ideally, I’d have the foresight to lead with my shoulder in this imagined athletic career.
Sean Keeley – I certainly can’t argue with quarterback or shortstop but I’m going to go another direction and say basketball shooting guard. My thinking goes that if I have all of the tools necessary to become a consistent shooter, there’s always going to be a need for that at just about every level of basketball, from high school to the pros. Because I’m not going to be doing too much post-work or driving to the hoop, my body won’t break down as quickly as a slasher’s or a big man’s might.
If I can at least get my shooting touch to a decent level, I can parlay that into a college scholarship and I’ll hone my skills further. From there, best-case scenario has me headed to the NBA, where I become the guy no one wants to get the ball from three-point range with the game on the line. Medium-case scenario, I spend my adulthood bounding from team to team, league to league and country to country as there’s always interest in a guy who can shoot, if nothing else. There are worse ways to see the world and while we might snicker at guys who play overseas, many of them are getting paid good money and living in exotic locales. Worst-case scenario, I can parlay my experience into a coaching job, which I’d probably end up doing anyway once my playing career was over.
Matt Clapp – Well I’m going to go with… you guessed it! Shortstop. Growing up, I played shortstop starting as like a five-year-old and it stayed that way until high school, where I moved over to second base. But in third grade, my travel team in North Carolina visited a Greensboro Hornets game, a Single-A affiliate of the Yankees (they’re now the Greensboro Grasshoppers, a Marlins affiliate).
Well, in the pregame, we were told to go stand at the position we play, where we would stand with the Greensboro player that plays the same position. That player was Derek Jeter, so I got to meet Jeter and stand with him at shortstop during the national anthem. Now, we didn’t know that this Single-A player would go on to be a Hall of Famer, but he was still a very known prospect at the time, so that was an amazing moment for me as a kid.
Naturally, I’d go on to wear No. 2 for my remaining baseball years, but it was another New York shortstop that I really tried to emulate playing the position: Rey Ordonez. I tried to pull off Ordonez’s slide-and-pop throw from the 5.5 hole so many times in games… but rarely got it to work quite like he could, of course.
But shortstop is a blast. It takes the best skills of any position in baseball. The arm, the hands, the range, the quick feet, etc. To be able to play that position at the major league level would really be a badass feeling, and usually allow you to carve out a pretty long career, even if your bat was Rey Ordonez-like (shitty).
Ben Koo – This is fucking insane. You think you know who you work with and then realize your co-workers probably have an entire room of their house dedicated to worshipping Derek Jeter. And Ian wants to be a fullback? Mild-mannered Ian wants to be a fullback? I played fullback. It’s horrible! They make no money and are getting phased out. Might as well be a typewriter repairman. You see any fullbacks coaching in the NFL, announcing, or doing commercials? Next, I’m going to find out he’s an avid Juggalo. I feel like this is some mutiny against my roundtables and there is some alternative email chain, saying “You know what would fuck with Ben?” If so, well played. Did Jeter and The Players Tribune put you up to this?
Now that I have explained that my coworkers are insane, the OBVIOUS answer is a pitcher. This is based on my criteria of 1/3 earning potential, 1/3 quality of life (both during and post-career), and 1/3 personal enjoyment.
Pitchers make bank. The average starting pitcher makes around ~$7 million a year with the average relief pitcher making ~$2.5 million a year. If I’m able to become a No. 1 or 2 starter and hit free agency, I’m cashing in big-time and it’s guaranteed money. Down the line, I can be a back-end starter or go to the bullpen and that’s still good money.
While an arm injury would be problematic, there is reduced threat of a contact injury and I love the idea that I’d only be working one day a week. I’d be so down to eat chicken, play video games, and drink beer on my days off with Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester. I’m sure if I didn’t drink and ate healthier, the stigma from that would go away.
I also like the idea that everyone once in a while, I’d have to bean someone “for the team” and occasionally, I could totally lose my shit with an umpire and make a huge scene ,and as long as I didn’t touch the umpire, I could basically return to work the next day like nothing happened. In almost every other job you can’t do that, but as a pitcher in baseball, you’re basically allowed one crazy ejection a year and nobody cares. Being a pitcher would also limit the amount of hitting and base-running that would be required. Fans are typically most supportive when pitchers get a hit or take an extra base, so I like the idea of getting cheered on like my parents did back in tee ball despite being miserable offensively.
More than anything, I like the idea that pitching is somewhat of an individual sport encompassed in a team sport. It’s you vs. the hitter and you have your own personal wingman behind the plate. I also think generally having a really good arm would be good for random stuff. You’re sitting on a bench about to bite an apple when you see a crook grab a woman’s purse. I can concoct lots of scenarios in which I get to throw fruit at someone and be a hero.
Phillip Bupp – I had my choices narrowed down to two, and they are vastly different types of professional athletes. I had thought about being a race car driver because I could realistically be a competitive racer from my late teens to my sixties. So the longevity is enticing, as well as the ability and possibility to race in various different cars and series around the world. That, and there is nothing like driving your car to the ragged edge time after time, trying to squeeze that fraction of a second needed to win.
But having said that, I would choose to play soccer and be an attacking midfielder. An attacking mid controls the team and can be involved in almost every part of a game, except being a goalkeeper. They can set up a scoring play, but also have the chance to take a shot when necessary. You can go back and defend if needed and more than likely, how the team plays flows through you. Plus, if you can take a free kick, pretty much every direct free kick goal you score is going on a highlight reel, so that’s pretty cool.
But the most important thing about being a pro soccer player would be working so I could try and play for my country. Sure, basketball and baseball both have international tournaments and an Olympian can play for their country in a variety of sports as well. But nothing compares to playing for your country in a World Cup or even in any game. No doubt it would be tough to make any national team, and it would be far from a certainty to be able and play for the USMNT, but I would love to have the opportunity to show what I could do. Even just a cap in a friendly would be incredible.
Matt Yoder – Man, this was a difficult one. I think I’m going to have to steal one of Phil’s answers and go with something that not a lot of American sports fans would pick: Formula One driver. Maybe it’s my appreciation for the F1 video games, maybe it’s because of my appreciation for James Garner and the movie Grand Prix — who knows? But there’s just something cool about the thought of being a Formula One driver. It’s the most exclusive, most expensive racing series in the world and by being an American in the series, you’re truly one of a kind instead of “just another guy” in a different sport. Plus, you get to travel the world to some of the most exotic locations possible (hello, Monaco) and own the place. Oh, and you get to drive really, really, really fast. Sign me up.
How about you?
[creepy photo: SI]