Not many young men find themselves in Jimmy Pickens’ situation.
Most high school grads are gearing up for college this fall, and so is Pickens — but there’s a slight hitch in the 2011 Birmingham Brother Rice grad’s decision-making process.
Sure, he’s a highly touted baseball recruit with eyes for coach Jake Boss’ program in East Lansing, but Pickens has an opportunity many ball players dream of: Competing in the big leagues.
And come Aug. 15, Pickens plans to choose either taking the field for Michigan State, defending Big Ten co-champion, or a little ball club in Detroit you may have heard of: The Detroit Tigers.
Pickens’ hometown favorite club picked him in June’s 2011 MLB Draft, which came as a surprise to the young star. He wasn’t terribly shocked he was drafted, there were a couple teams interested, but when he heard the news he was selected by the Tigers, that’s when the excitement hit. “They were probably the last team I thought I was going to get drafted by — even if I was going to get drafted,” said Pickens in a recent interview with Spartan Nation Radio. “I had no contact with them going into the draft…”
He returned home from baseball, only to hear of the Tigers’ decision. Pickens checked online to see what happened with the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners — two teams that he said had interest — in the 41st round to find the teams had made their choices. So, he awaited the 42nd round and read the ticker online.
And Detroit opted to go with the 19-year-old multi-position standout.
“I was like ‘Whoah. This is me! No way! ’ “ said Pickens, adding that he had “no clue” the Tigers were interested. The Tigers’ rights to Pickens expire in mid-August, which simply means the team has the option to make a deal with Pickens this year, or he can move forward with college ball.
“The ball’s in their hands,” said Pickens of the Tigers. “If they want to make a formal contract offer, they can make it. I have to think about it with my family.”
Although playing in the majors is alluring, Pickens insists his thoughts, at least at the moment, are playing baseball for Michigan State and he’s “looking to defend the conference championship.”
Should a deal between Pickens and the Tigers not come to fruition this year, there will still be an aura of excitement surrounding his athletic career, if even just for the Spartan faithful. By all accounts, Pickens was easily one of the best preps in the state last season, but he was also a standout football player.
There haven’t been too many Spartans to star on both the gridiron and diamond. And the ones that have went onto storied careers. The late Brad Van Pelt, who is arguably one of the greatest Spartans of all-time, was a letter-winner in baseball and football (basketball, too). Van Pelt, like Pickens, was drafted out of high school by… you guessed it, the Detroit Tigers.
Kirk Gibson was a great football player during his day, and certainly one of the premier baseball players in Michigan State history.
“He’s a big influence on the way I play the game, “said Pickens. “I’ve been told I play like him. He’s one of the best baseball players I’ve even seen play.”
Van Pelt went onto a productive NFL career, and Gibby, well he had a few memorable moments with the Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers.
While it’s impossible to forecast the future, the same could, in theory, be in the works for Pickens, who was also asked to play football by Spartans coach Mark Dantonio.
Football is part of life Pickens can’t let go, but his love for baseball and desire to play professional trumps football. Pickens said a former classmate drew a picture with him dressed in football and baseball uniforms. The classmate spoke of Pickens’ commitment to baseball, making him think more the game.
“Baseball is my passion,” said Pickens. “I can’t imagine myself not playing it. But I love football, if anything happens, and the Spartans need any help in the defensive backfield, I’m not afraid to suit up and come out and play.”
Pickens said Coach Boss wouldn’t mind if he played football, but it was Coach Dantonio that encouraged the idea.
“It was more coach Dantonio who wanted me to commit to football,” he said. “(But) you never know, maybe one day. …Who knows, I’ll just wait and see what happens.”
Boss’ dedication made Pickens comfortable when committing to Michigan State. Pickens was impressed by Boss’ sincerity, which was shown by way of a text message two years ago on Christmas.
For now, it seems as if Pickens will be a Spartan, but who could fault a young man with his options. Not seizing a pro career immediately could end up being something Pickens regrets, but at the same time, not playing collegiately could be, too.
However, Pickens feels he’s in a “no-lose spot,” and that he doesn’t have a “whole lot worries in (his) life.” Of course he doesn’t. He’s young, just drafted by a a big-league ball club and has offers to play two sports for on the of the Big Ten’s top schools.
A world of potential awaits, and he’s probably right… he can’t go wrong either way.