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IU baseball coach likes athletes to pull double

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Here’s a trivia question for you. When was the last time Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston lost a game?

Think hard. The Seminoles were undefeated on their way to the BCS title this season. It’s been a while.

If you are trying to remember the 2012 football season, though, you have gone too far.

Winston’s last loss was on the diamond, not the gridiron.

The two-sport athlete’s FSU baseball Seminoles fell to Indiana University 11-6 on June 9 in the deciding game of the Tallahassee (Fla.) Super Regional.

The win eliminated the seventh-ranked Seminoles and sent the Hoosiers to their first College World Series. Winston pitched two innings in relief, giving up a run.

It also cemented a bond between the star athlete and IU baseball coach Tracy Smith in the belief that two-sport athletes can succeed against the tide of specialization in athletics today.

“Winston is proof that kids can play multiple sports and be successful,” the IU coach tweeted during this week’s championship football contest. “To those coaches who pressure kids into specializing – ‘shame on you.’”

Smith didn’t name names. He doesn’t have to in a sports world where many — if not most — high school and college basketball and football coaches insist on complete devotion to their sport to the exclusion of others.

“It’s probably more of a problem at the high school level,” said Smith, who saw his own three sons experience this pressure as young athletes. “That’s what gets my ire the most. I have watched the subtle and not-so-subtle approach of coaches to this. Of course, they will deny it, but it is there.

“Kids are being discouraged at such an early age. There is such a pressure and emphasis by coaches.”

When given the opportunity, two-sport athletes can succeed, even on a big stage, Smith said, ticking off a trio of recent Hoosier baseball players who also played either football or basketball.

Winston is a prime recent example, but there are others, including Nick Stoner. The Center Grove grad is a wideout on the IU football team and a sprinter on the track team, with accolades in both, as well as in the classroom.

A junior math major, Stoner was named Academic All-Big Ten in football and earned All-America honors as a member of IU’s indoor 3,200-meter relay, taking eighth at the NCAA Championships.

Indiana needs to encourage more of that, Smith said.

The coach also said he became impressed by the approach of Florida State’s legendary football and baseball coaches, Bobby Bowden and Mike Martin, who long worked together to encourage athletes to attempt multiple sports if they had the potential to succeed.

“Our approach is to let the kids try it,” Smith recalled Martin telling him. “If Florida State can pull it off, then everyone around can do it, too.”

The effort has proved successful, with Winston chasing the potential of a dual sport pro career, as Auburn’s Bo Jackson did two decades ago.

Of course, Winston is a special case.

“I think he’s a first-rounder in both sports,” Miami baseball coach Jim Morris told reporters in November, via NFL.com. “It’s really, really hard in baseball to be able to pitch and to hit, and he might be their best pitcher and their best hitter. And by the way, he’s playing football, too, which is amazing.”

Those favoring specialization point to the rigors of managing multiple sports and the paucity of success stories like Winston’s.

To that, Smith asks, “How do we know? So many potential two-way guys are forced to choose early. Stats are definitely skewed.”

Often, it is the lower profile sports that lose out.

Although the Hoosiers have no baseball-football athletes currently, Smith sees that as a real possibility in the future.

“(IU football) Coach (Kevin) Wilson and (basketball) coach (Tom) Crean are very open-minded,” said Smith, whose son, Casey, plays baseball and threw the javelin until last year in track and field. “It’s a good environment.”

That openness could lead to a recruiting advantage for the Hoosiers in luring potential two-sport athletes.

Meanwhile, Smith will bask in the glow of having his baseball Hoosiers as the answer to a most unusual trivia question regarding Winston.

“That tweet (about IU’s win over FSU) got more response than any I have ever done, including going to the College World Series,” said Smith, whose Hoosiers open their quest for a repeat trip on Feb. 14 at Texas Tech.

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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