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This story is part of Only A Game’s “Rivalry Show,” which looked at stories of rivalries in sports.
Notre Dame graduate Pat Connaughton was the 41st pick in this week's NBA Draft. Brooklyn took the 6-foot-5-inch guard then traded him to Portland. The Trailblazers like his shooting and 44-inch vertical leap.
Being drafted by a franchise is a once-in-a-lifetime moment for most pro athletes, but not for Connaughton.
The Baltimore Orioles chose Connaughton in last year’s Major League Baseball draft and paid him a $428,100 signing bonus. Baltimore likes Connaughton’s 95-mph fastball.
Connaughton's personal rivalry is not only between two teams. It's between two sports. Bill Littlefield sat down with him at the Woburn, Mass. gym where he's worked out since high school.
BL: What was your first sport?
PC: My mom when I was a very very young kid — I’m talking 3 years old — would have me out in the back yard and she’d throw baseballs to me. And I wasn’t allowed to use the big orange Wiffle ball bat. I had to use the little yellow one, and she didn’t even throw real Wiffle balls. She threw those little plastic golf balls. And it was extremely difficult to do, but she had me out there day in and day out doing it just 'cause she knew I enjoyed doing it. And she wanted to make it as hard as possible, so I could succeed at it when it was easier.
BL: Did she give you a hard time when you missed?
PC: Yeah, she to this day brags about being the person that has struck me out the most.
PC: So for me, no coach ever did. No coach ever pressured me into it. Now, I’ve seen it happen. There were a few teams that wanted me to play for them that said, "All right. There’s no spot for you on this team anymore."
I can’t tell you the amount of times after I committed to Notre Dame for two sports that coaches that I played against – not my coaches – but coaches that I played against told me, "It’s not going to work. You’re not going to be able to do it."
BL: The Orioles drafted you back in 2014 — with a signing bonus worth more than $428,000. Was there a temptation at that point to say, "OK. That’s the starting block. Lets go play some baseball and see what happens?"
PC: To be honest, no. For me, I had had the same type of temptation coming out of high school. There were a lot of teams that wanted to pursue me to pursue baseball right out of high school and not go to college. Upwards of millions of dollars to not do it. The way I looked at it is, at some point I’m going to have to succeed in this sport in order to make it my living. So, if they’re offering me this money now, and if I work at it as hard as I can while I’m in college — while I’m getting a degree — while I’m rounding out myself as a human being overall — you know, hopefully it will be there afterwards. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make the most of it as time goes on and as I get to the right point in my life where I can focus on sports and solely sports.
BL: Was there ever a time though – and let's not talk about pressure that you were getting from other people – was there ever a time when you were playing basketball or playing baseball that you thought, "Man, this basketball is really getting in the way of my playing baseball," or the other way around?
I owe it to myself not to give up on one because there is a lot of money in the other. Money shouldn’t be a factor in ... deciding what you want to do for your entire life.Pat Connaughton
BL: Tell me a little about what you are doing this summer. I know it’s basketball focused, but do you still get out in the backyard and throw to your mother?
PC: She still tries to strike me out actually.
BL: [Laughs] Which is easy because you’re a pitcher. You're not supposed to hit.
PC: [Laughs] Exactly, unless you’re in the National League. For me, I’ll focus on basketball. I’ll put 100 percent at it. But kind of like I said with baseball, being a pitcher you can’t throw every day. Being a basketball player in the NBA, your legs need rest from day to day. You know, I always used pitching as an off day as I grew up during basketball season just to keep my arm in shape.
So when you’re playing a sport – or sports in my case – that you love, you always find a way to make sure you’re at least preparing yourself for whatever may come down the road.
BL: All right, let’s talk about some of the other athletes who have had opportunities in more than one sport. And none of their names, will surprise you. Dave Winfield drafted by the NBA, the ABA, the NFL, and Major League Baseball. Danny Ainge played for the [Toronto] Blue Jays, obviously had an NBA career. Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders. Do you sort of think of yourself in those terms, kind of following in the footsteps of any of them?
PC: I think, for me, one thing that I've learned is that every two-sport athlete has his own path. Some of them are different sports. Some of them are football and baseball. You know, some of them did it different ways. Danny Ainge played baseball while he was in college and then professionally and then went to basketball afterwards. They’re all done a little bit differently.
I owe it to myself not to give up on one because there is a lot of money in the other. Money shouldn’t be a factor in, you know, deciding what you want to do for your entire life. And to be quite honest, it serves as a platform to be a role model to the kids that you don’t have to specialize at such a young age, like so many people are trying to get kids to do nowadays.
This segment aired on June 27, 2015.
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