With a twist of fate some 17 years ago, Tom Brady might have been a Montreal Expo instead of one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history.
The 34-year-old signal caller fielded questions from a mob of reporters with ease at Super Bowl media day on Tuesday – easy breezy for a guy who is about to join John Elway as the only two quarterbacks to appear in five Super Bowls. But imagine what might have been if the Expos had lured Brady to the major leagues after drafting him in 1995.
When asked about his boyhood Tuesday, Brady spoke of being a San Francisco 49ers fan, growing up on baseball fields and watching his older sisters star in softball.
As a teen at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif., Brady was a rare find on the ball diamond: a tall power-hitting, left-handed catcher. The all-boys Catholic school had pumped out a long list of pro athletes such as Barry Bonds and Lynn Swann. Major-league scouts eyed Brady, even though he intended to play football at the University of Michigan.
“Whenever he would take an infield before a game, that’s when they really took notice,” said Brady’s high school baseball coach Pete Jensen, who was also a scout for the Seattle Mariners at the time. “Scouts would see him throw from behind the plate and say, ‘Wow,’ because he really had an outstanding arm.”
During Brady’s two years of varsity baseball, he played in 61 games, hit .311 with eight homers, 11 doubles and 44 runs batted in. As a senior, he was an all-league catcher.
Jensen recalls one game when Brady blistered two homers, one of them crushed so far it rapped off Serra’s team bus and woke a sleeping bus driver who figured he had parked a safe distance from the fence. Jensen also took his young player to a pre-draft workout for the Mariners, where he rocked a few balls out of the old Kingdome.
“Tommy’s makeup was just so fantastic – the leadership, competitiveness and the athletic tools,” Jensen said. “I actually felt he was a better baseball player in high school than he was a football player. I told everyone he would play in the majors some day.”
The Expos selected him in the 18th round of the June of 1995 draft but one scout says they would have chosen him much sooner if they had more hope he would choose baseball.
John Hughes, an Expos scout evaluating players in California back then, convinced Expos national-level scout Dave Littlefield that he had to see Brady.
“He wasn’t as filled out as he is now, but he had a very smooth, nice swing and great athleticism,” said Littlefield, now a scout for the Chicago Cubs. “We would have loved to have him in professional baseball.”
The summer after the draft, when Montreal was in San Francisco playing the Giants at Candlestick Park, they invited Brady to take batting practice.
“That’s not something we did for many players,” said Hughes, now a scout with the Florida Marlins. “You have to be a pretty special prospect to get an opportunity like that.”
Hughes brought Brady into the Expos’ clubhouse and gave him a uniform to wear. In no time, the likeable young player was fitting in seamlessly, sitting on a stool chatting with players such as outfielders F.P. Santangelo and Rondell White.
“Here was a teenage kid holding court with a bunch of big leaguers, and you could just see him getting around so naturally,” Hughes said. “I still think he was the most impressive young high school kid I’ve ever dealt with in this business.”
Hughes visited the Brady family home and had a solid chat, but since the Bradys were determined Tom was going to college, the Expos never talked money. He said the team felt Brady was worthy of a salary of a player drafted in the top three rounds.
Hughes sent Brady a few e-mails over his Michigan years, and Brady responded with fond memories of his day at Candlestick Park.
“It’s surreal now to think about how different things would be if he had chosen baseball and not had this incredible career as a quarterback,” Hughes said. “But maybe we could have had some remarkable moments with him in major-league baseball.”