Playing a game against one of the excellent college baseball teams from the state of Florida is nothing unusual for Major League Baseball clubs. Two MLB teams did just that on Tuesday afternoon, with the Detroit Tigers blanking Florida Southern, 12-0, while the New York Yankees had the much more glamorous matchup, taking on the Florida State Seminoles. Playing Florida State meant the Yankees played part in one of the rarest of MLB contests — Spring Training or otherwise — as on the other side was the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, FSU quarterback, pitcher and outfielder Jameis Winston.
Winston, who led the Seminoles to a perfect record and BCS national championship on the gridiron in the fall, still hasn’t lost a competitive game in the 2013-14 academic year. The sophomore (he’s a redshirt freshman in football) and his baseball teammates entered Tuesday’s game with a 6-0 record with only one of those games (a 4-1 win over Niagara) even being close. While being 20-0 as a competitive athlete in your sophomore year is something to brag about, Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, a team Winston has acknowledged publicly is his favorite team, was a whole other matter for both him and his opponents.
The first question for the Yankees was exactly in what capacity they would face Winston. The Hueytown, Ala. native is mostly a relief pitcher for the Seminoles but also will see limited time in the outfield this season. Winston had only made two plate appearances (walk, single) this season prior to Tuesday, but he had been more active on the mound, working four scoreless innings in three appearances while allowing just one hit and no walks.
For the Yankees, the result clearly didn’t matter, but this was the perfect way for them to start the exhibition season. Given Winston’s presence for the Seminoles, there would be almost no focus on New York today, save for the tremendously hardcore fan or eagle-eyed reporter. The Yankees get the opportunity to get plenty of players at-bats and chances in the field in live game action without much consequence, while the fans and media get to focus their attention on a possible two-sport standout in Winston — though to this point he’s much more accomplished in football than he is in baseball.
The spotlight will quickly turn to the Yankee side of the field in the coming weeks as the departure of Robinson Cano through free agency, any lingering questions about Alex Rodriguez and the arrival or Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka will keep the Yankees busy this spring. Not to mention figuring out a way to catch up in the American League East to the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
For the record, New York won the game 8-3. Winston went 0-for-2 and didn’t pitch. It made for a nice sideshow and an interesting footnote to the Yankees’ spring and Winston’s season, but with it in the books now, it’s time for both to focus on more important matters ahead.