Before trade to Eagles, AJ Brown wanted to play for this MLB team
PHILADELPHIA − The Eagles might not have known how close they came to losing out on the chance to even trade for AJ Brown.
That’s because three months before the Eagles pulled off the draft night trade with the Tennessee Titans, Brown was having thoughts about trading himself out of the NFL entirely in order to play his first love − baseball for the San Diego Padres.
Instead of teaming with Jalen Hurts, Brown could’ve teamed with Manny Machado.
“I was dead serious,” Brown told Delaware Online/The News Journal about playing baseball. “(The Padres) had reached out to me. They were about to invite me to spring training. They were just waiting on an answer from me.”
But there was one snag.
Brown said the Padres weren’t interested in him becoming the next dual-sport star like Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders, playing baseball until late summer before switching over to football.
“They were telling me if I’m (still) going to play football, then I can’t play baseball,” Brown said. “I can’t just play around with (baseball). So it kind of killed my chances for the moment.”
“Who knows?” Brown added. “Maybe when I’m done playing football, I’ll go play baseball.”
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Brown was thinking about catching fly balls instead of touchdown passes because he was frustrated about the lack of progress on a contract extension with the Titans.
That was when he retweeted a post about Bo Jackson, who played both football and baseball during the 1990s and added the comment: “Sometimes i think about playing both sports again. @Padres all I need is a workout.” He added the sunglasses on a sun emoji.
The Padres had drafted Brown in the 19th round, 564th overall, in the 2016 draft. That was 563 spots after the Phillies chose Mickey Moniak with the No. 1 overall pick. Moniak, like Brown, is a center fielder. But Moniak never panned out. He was hitting .130 for the Phillies this summer when he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels.
Brown insisted that he would’ve been an early-round pick had he focused only on baseball while at high school in Starkville, Mississippi. But Brown had made it clear back then that he was going to college at Mississippi to play football.
“I just fell in love with football in high school,” Brown said. “It was so much more fun scoring touchdowns.”
The Padres took a chance anyway, just in case Brown would one day change his mind.
Padres area scout Stephen Moritz followed Brown extensively in high school. He told MLB.com in February that he had Brown graded as a future everyday player in the major leagues.
“It was like watching a grown man on a field of high schoolers,” Moritz told MLB.com. “The first time I saw him, I knew this was a different kind of athlete than 99 percent of the players we were going to scout.”
The Eagles have seen this ever since they traded for Brown in April, sending the Titans a first- and a third-round pick. Brown had 10 catches for 155 yards in his first game as an Eagle, a 38-35 win over the Detroit Lions on Sept. 11. He followed that up with 69 yards last Monday night in the Eagles’ 24-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
And Brown, who is built like a running back at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, can run past defenders both on deep balls and after catching the ball in space.
Brown showed that against the Lions on a 54-yard pass from Hurts, catching the ball over his shoulder, like a center fielder chasing after a deep fly ball to the gap in left-center field.
Brown said that’s no accident.
“Playing baseball definitely helps me with hand-eye coordination,” Brown said. “Tracking the ball over the shoulder. I think tracking the football is much easier than tracking a little small baseball. That helps me in the game I play today. The hand-eye coordination with my hands, looking the catch in.”
Eagles talkin’ baseball
Brown isn’t the only Eagles player who said that baseball has helped him in football.
Hurts admitted last week that he learned how to slide in baseball, and that translates to the football field when he avoids getting hit by defenders after a long run.
“I played baseball as a kid, so I always had a nice slide,” Hurts said. “It kind of started at Alabama. Coach would tell me to get down, so I got down. I slid in high school (football) as well.
“I always try to protect myself when I needed to, try to manage the game that way.”
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith said baseball helps him with hand-eye coordination. Smith said he played baseball up until high school when he chose track as his spring sport.
When asked how good he was, Smith said: “I was good enough.”
“I kind of wish I would’ve stuck with it,” Smith added. “Baseball is fun. I just liked running track more.”
Smith held a charity softball event last June inAllentown, Pennsylvania, where several Eagles players, along with the Cowboys’ linebacker Micah Parsons and others, took part in a home run derby before playing a game.
Brown won the home run derby, beating Parsons in an overtime round. But Hurts won the game with a walk-off homer and was named the game’s MVP.
Brown, however, downplayed Hurts’ accomplishment.
“That’s not baseball. That’s softball,” Brown said with a laugh.
Smith ranked Brown at the top as a baseball player on the Eagles, followed by him, Hurts and cornerback Avonte Maddox.
“People don’t realize that baseball is one of the toughest sports there is to play,” Smith said. “But it was kind of funny going out there and seeing who could actually play.”
‘Taking a back seat’
Even after Brown turned down the chance to begin his climb up the Padres’ minor-league ladder, he still stayed involved with baseball.
During Brown’s three years at Ole Miss, he would report to Arizona for the Padres’ extended spring training program. He’d work out with other minor leaguers and prospects in the Padres’ system.
But Brown was never willing to give up football. And that was especially true when the Titans made him their second-round pick in 2019.
“I could definitely play. I could compete with the guys,” Brown said about his experience with the Padres. “Once I started falling in love with football, baseball took a back seat, and I kind of just played to play.”
Maybe it would have stayed that way. But after last season, Brown wanted a new contract. He had one year left on his rookie contract, and he felt that he deserved to get paid among the top wide receivers in the NFL.
Brown surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons. He would have done it again last season, but he missed four games with an injury and finished with 869 yards in 13 games.
Brown, however, grew frustrated when the Titans wouldn’t give him a new contract with an average annual value of $22 million per year or more. And he took to social media to express his frustration. He said last spring that the Titans’ best offer fell short of $20 million per year.
That eventually led to his trade to the Eagles. Within minutes of trading for Brown, the Eagles signed him to a four-year extension worth as much as $100 million, with $56 million guaranteed.
At that point, Brown’s dlliance with baseball pretty much ended.
But that doesn’t mean his love affair with the game is over. Brown just turned 25 last summer, and he’ll be 29 when his Eagles’ contract expires in 2026.
Michael Jordan was 30 years old when he left the Chicago Bulls after leading the Bulls to a third straight NBA championship to try making it with the Chicago White Sox in 1994. Jordan never reached the major leagues before going back to the Bulls in February 1995. He would lead the Bulls to another three NBA titles.
Brown tweeted last winter: “I promise I will do better than Michael Jordan in baseball.”
Unless Brown is willing to give up football, he won’t get the chance. The dual-sport days of Jackson and Sanders are seemingly over, mainly because of the injury risk. That was the case with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who was a first-round pick of the Oakland A’s in 2018.
Murray chose going to Oklahoma to play football and never signed with the A’s.
Still, Brown thinks about baseball.
Upon getting traded to the Eagles, Brown threw out the first pitch at a Phillies game. He admitted that his favorite player growing up was Ken Griffey Jr., a Hall of Fame center fielder. And that he followed Phillies star Bryce Harper’s career ever since Harper was a teenage prodigy.
“I started playing baseball as soon as I could walk,” Brown said. “Baseball was my first love. To be honest, that’s what I always planned to do − go to MLB and play baseball.”
The Eagles are certainly glad that he didn’t. At least for now.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.