Twins draft Gophers’ DeckerAs soon as Eric Decker stepped back into the batter’s box last spring, Major League Baseball scouts began their watch.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As soon as Eric Decker stepped back into the batter’s box last spring, Major League Baseball scouts began their watch.
But for now, Decker is a football player first — a focus he made clear to the Minnesota Twins as they drafted him in the 27th round with the 822nd overall pick on Wednesday.
The college experience, particularly the opportunity to lead the Gophers into their new outdoor stadium on campus as a captain this fall, is too special for Decker to skip.
The chance to start a professional baseball career with his favorite team this summer wasn’t enough to change Decker’s mind. He’ll be running and lifting weights with his football teammates to prepare for the upcoming season, with an eye toward the NFL draft next spring.
“You’ve got to prepare yourself for anything. It’s always nice to have options. Right now, all I’m worried about is getting myself in shape and getting bigger and stronger for the football season,” Decker said.
One of 10 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the best receiver in the nation, Decker led the Big Ten in per-game receptions and receiving yards. He broke his own school single-season record with 84 catches, and his 1,074 yards constituted the second-highest total in program history; that production came despite a sprained ankle that limited him to three receptions and 30 yards over the final three regular season games.
There’s an obvious injury risk in football, but Decker had plenty of incentive to return.
“The University of Minnesota has been a part of me now for five years,” he said. “There are some experiences that money can’t buy. I’m excited to see what we can do. It’s hard to give up the college game, and I think I’ll cherish that for a lifetime.”
Decker batted .319 with 43 runs, four homers, 11 steals and 25 RBIs in 56 games in his second season on the diamond, but his focus on football hurt his draft status.
“The acquisition process is kind of still murky, figuring out how to do this, but he is a talented player who did warrant taking somewhere in the selection process,” Twins vice president for player personnel Mike Radcliff said, adding: “He certainly has the skills and physical abilities to be both an offensive and a defensive guy in baseball, but the fact that he’s not going to totally commit to that makes the equation what it is.”
Decker played baseball, of course, at Rocori High School in the St. Cloud area town of Cold Spring, but he’d been away from the diamond for three years when he decided to join renowned coach John Anderson’s team last spring.
“I knew the name from football, but we were kind of thinking, ‘What’s he doing here?”‘ second baseman Derek McCallum said. “Once he started practicing well, it was like, ‘I guess he plays baseball OK, too.”‘
Decker batted .329 with 47 runs and 28 RBIs in 161 at-bats while leading the team in walks and playing left field, offering enough potential to prompt the Milwaukee Brewers to draft him in the 38th round despite his stated intention of returning to school. Since Garry Reierson did so in the mid-1960s, Decker is Minnesota’s first multi-letter athlete in both baseball and football.
“He was a natural talent. From the start, you could tell he’s an all-around gifted athlete,” McCallum said. “He brought a lot to the table for our team the last couple of years.”
McCallum was also drafted by the Twins, in the fourth round. Maybe he and Decker will be teammates again sometime, somewhere.
“That would definitely be cool, but with his football talent I’m not sure if that will work out,” McCallum said.
McCallum, who’s from the St. Paul suburb of Shoreview and played at Hill-Murray High School, became the highest drafted Gophers player — he went 132nd overall — since the Twins took pitcher Glen Perkins in the first round in 2004.
One of 16 finalists for a national player of the year award, McCallum batted .409 with 57 runs, 17 doubles, 18 home runs and 86 RBIs in 59 games as a junior for the Gophers. He set the school record for RBIs in one season.