Pigskins + Cowhides: A Tale of Two Drafts

I don’t care much for football, I never really have. If you were to ask me who my favorite football team was though, I would quickly tell you it was the Denver Broncos. The reason for this is simple; my oldest brother attended Cal during the years John Elway played for Stanford and the rebellious five year old in me became a lifelong fan of the Cardinal. I would later find out that Elway spent a summer with the Oneonta Yankees so in a way my fandom still was rooted in baseball.

We are now in early May and there is still no sign of baseball, and out of desperation I decided to tune into the NFL’s “virtual draft” last week. There was Roger Goodell live from his basement, virtual boos and all, announcing the picks. I tuned in mainly to see who would go #1, and also to see who the Raiders, and 49ers would select. The lowly Cincinnati Bengals, who at 2-14 the previous season, had the first pick and selected LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow was considered a no brainer after the amazing season he had in 2019. Prior to the season, Burrow was considered a fringe player and Mel Kuiper had slotted him as a potential 6th round pick after a very pedestrian 2018 campaign.

Now a senior, at age 23, he became the fifth oldest player ever selected #1 overall. Burrow’s story is one that dreams are made of: but what about the nightmares? Although still going in the first round, and still a very respectable #5 overall, Alabama’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who was the long time favorite to go #1 slipped to the Miami Dolphins. Injuries over the past year gave teams something to worry about but the Dolphins gambled at #5 based on what he could do when he is healthy. To be clear he has been medically cleared to play football now. It will be interesting to see how both of these players’ careers unfold. Honestly I’m more intrigued with the #2 overall pick, Ohio State defensive end Chris Young. The commentators couldn’t say enough about Young and labeled him a “generational player” who can change the Redskins defense. It was also fun to see his teammate Jeff Okudah go #3 to the Detroit Lions. This pick made it the first time in history that the top 3 picks had all been teammates as Burrow played for Ohio State prior to transferring to LSU. I’m still not a football fan, but as a sociology major these stories fascinate me and the draft kept our mind off of the real world for a few hours, and although it didn’t cure the suffering, it allowed us to feel normal.

The Major League Draft is scheduled to start on June 10th, just a little over a month away. I don’t know if the world will be back to “normal” by then, but I hope that Major League baseball takes a page from the NFL Virtual Draft. I found it much more exciting and natural to see the player’s reactions when their names were called and the real emotions they shared with their families. Yes, you see that during the MLB draft, I vividly remember watching Tyler Beede, Kyle Tucker, and Brady Aiken celebrate their selections with friends and family but those moments are spoiled a little for me by those who attend in studio. An exception goes to the 2009 draft when Mike Trout was the only player to attend the in-studio draft in which was also the first year of MLB network. Honorable mention should go to Courtney Hawkins and his backflip in 2013.

The draft is the realization of one dream, and the beginning of another. One thing that this NFL draft has over the MLB draft is that due to the pandemic, the 2020 amateur baseball season has come to a grinding halt. Where as in college football Joe Burrow went from a potential 6th round pick tp #1 overall in his senior year is remarkable, but baseball players, especially college seniors didn’t get that opportunity. These”fringe” players may have had their careers come to an abrupt end, especially as Major League Baseball is considering reducing this year’s draft to only five rounds.

So what about Spencer Torkelson? Going back to before last years draft, the Arizona State outfielder was considered the hands down #1 overall pick for 2020. During the MLB season I even saw fans of losing teams hope that their teams would “tank for Torkelson”. Will Torkelson still go #1? Who could have stepped up in 2020 and changed their destiny? No matter who goes #1, I’m excited to hear Rob Manfred say… “with the first pick of the 2020 Major League draft. The Detroit Tigers select…”

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