On October 3, 2011, Desmond Jennings‘ frustration finally reached a boiling point and he came through on the potential that was evident from his first month in the major leagues, slamming 2 home runs in the Rays’ loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the ALDS. But just a few years earlier, it had looked everything like any postseason play Jennings would see would come in a different sport: football. Many players currently playing professionally in both baseball and football starred in the sport they didn’t wind up going into in high school, and in that regard, Jennings was just one of many. But Jennings story in football did not nearly end there. It was only a twist of fate and a stroke of luck that caused Jennings to end up in baseball. Otherwise, instead of looking forward to seeing Jennings suit up for the Rays with spring training rapidly approaching, we could have been watching him in the Super Bowl last night.
Desmond Jennings played both football and baseball at Pinson Valley High School in Alabama and showed considerable promise in both sports. But no one ever had any doubt that his focus was squarely on football. An athletic 6’2″, 190 dual-threat quarterback, Jennings made a name for himself as an explosive athlete with top-of-the-line speed, great agility, impressive toughness, and secondarily a solid arm, and Division I colleges recruited him as a wide receiver. Jennings eventually decided to commit to the University of Alabama. However, Jennings’ plans had to change when he failed to qualify academically. Jennings was selected in the 18th round of the MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians, but football remained his passion and he decided to enroll at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi to play football and eventually make his way to Alabama. Once Jennings arrived at Itawamba, he immediately put himself back on the map, leading all junior college wide receivers in receptions and setting himself up for a transfer to Alabama the following fall. But while he was still at Itawamba, he was convinced to join the baseball team, and teams quickly became intrigued. He was relatively raw on the baseball diamond, but his athleticism stole the show in every game he played and he wasn’t completely lost at the plate, showing solid bat speed and power potential. And despite his commitment to Alabama, that was enough for the Devil Rays to take a chance on him in the 10th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. They signed him for $125,000, the most of any player in that round but an amount that would prove to be a major bargain as Jennings proved himself to be one of the Rays’ best prospects just one year later.
It took the perfect series of events for Desmond Jennings to end up in baseball and not football. But at the end of the day, the Rays and their fans are awfully glad that things played out the way they did and so too for Jennings- he can never know what would have happened had he ended up in football. As we move on from football to baseball following the Super Bowl, everyone can be thankful that Jennings chose to do the same.