Logic dictates that Jamison Wells should focus on baseball.
After all, the Northern Illinois center fielder is receiving looks from professional baseball scouts. Some say his progress on the diamond is being impeded only by his participation as a receiver on NIU’s football team.
“[Baseball] is a game that you need experience and you need to play,” NIU baseball coach Ed Mathey says. “When you’re involved in Division I football, that’s going to limit your opportunities. Not just your opportunities in the fall, but your ability to play summer baseball.”
Spring football is in session now, making this one of the most difficult times of the year for Wells.
On Monday and Wednesday, Wells goes to football practice. Because the baseball team plays its conference games on the weekends, he misses the other two weekly football practices on Fridays and Saturdays.
Wells will have to miss one conference game April 21 against Toledo, when the football team has its spring game.
“It’s pretty hectic,” he said.
The busy schedule certainly isn’t helping his batting average, which was a disappointing .220 after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Ohio.
Last season, Mathey saw what Wells could do with a one-track mind.
Without spring football to worry about at the end of the year, the center fielder closed out the season with a 14-game hitting streak, raising his batting average from .271 to .321.
“He shows flashes,” Mathey says. “He’s just got to get consistent if he wants to play beyond the Division I level. He’s got the physical tools for it, but baseball’s not a game with only physical tools.”
The junior wasn’t planning on playing two sports when he committed to the NIU football team during his senior year of high school.
But he injured his knee during baseball season that year, putting his football career in doubt, so he decided to commit to Mathey’s baseball team instead.
“I wasn’t sure if I could run the same, so I decided to play baseball,” Wells said.
Realizing that his knee was fine after his freshman baseball season, he decided to give football a shot. After not catching any passes during his first season, he had 14 receptions for 122 yards his second year.
Wells realizes playing football isn’t making his path to a professional baseball career any easier. But he doesn’t seem to care.
“People say, ‘Oh man, maybe you should just play baseball,’ but almost nobody can say that they’ve played both and had success doing it,” Wells said. “Down the road, I don’t want to look back and say, ‘Hey, what if I played football? How much fun would I have had?’ How many kids get that opportunity, to play both?”
Many high-level athletes hone in on one sport in high school, worried about receiving college scholarships. Almost all athletes who claim those few D-I scholarships specialize in one sport in college.
But Wells has a rare attitude about his college career. He knows playing baseball may make him a lot of money someday, but he wants to enjoy his collegiate career as much as he can.
Because he didn’t play football during his freshman year, he has an extra year of football eligibility. He plans once again on making the commitment to spring practice during his senior baseball season.
“If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Wells said of a professional baseball career. “I want to play professional baseball – that’s definitely one of my goals, but I’m trying not to worry about that. I’m just trying to have fun and win this year.”
• Anthony Zilis is a contributor to the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.