Former Met played football for 5 seasons before transitioning to baseball
By David Adler
What Tim Tebow wants -- to go from the NFL to the Major Leagues without having played baseball since high school -- is almost unprecedented in modern-day sports. But not completely.
D.J. Dozier, who played running back for the Vikings and Lions from 1987-91, then left field for the Mets in '92, took that path: from multisport high school athlete, to football-only in college and the NFL, to picking up baseball and reaching the Majors.
While not a perfect comparison, as Tebow's baseball layoff was a bit longer, Dozier's path from pigskin to cowhide offers Tebow the most reason for hope.
"The thing I would tell Tebow would be don't get frustrated," Dozier said in advance of the former Broncos quarterback's showcase for MLB teams on Tuesday. "Give yourself some time, assuming you have it. … If you're an athlete, you love the game of baseball and you have the tools, it's a matter of time."
In 1983, Dozier was drafted by the Tigers in the 18th round out of Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach, Va. It was a courtesy; MLB teams knew he was committed to Penn State, where he played four years of football and was, like Tebow, an All-American and a national champion.
Dozier was supposed to play baseball, too, but football got in the way: first a deal with then-Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to spend his full freshman year on the gridiron; then arthroscopic knee surgery; then his NFL draft stock.
The Vikings drafted Dozier in the first round in 1987, and he went to the NFL. His rookie year in Minnesota, the Twins beat the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.
"Something hit me," said Dozier, who rushed for 691 yards and seven touchdowns across five NFL seasons. "I just had this overwhelming thought about playing baseball."
Dozier didn't act on it until 1989, his third NFL season. By then, he hadn't played baseball in six years. (Dozier said his baseball pursuit wasn't motivated by stagnation in football, "although obviously I wasn't satisfied with where my career was at the time.")
A call to Dave Rosenfield, general manager of Dozier's hometown Tidewater Tides, the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Virginia, got Dozier a tryout. After 30 days of training, Dozier flew to Florida, a 6-foot, 200-pound, 24-year-old NFLer among rookies, with little idea what he was doing.
"My first batting practice session was against a guy who was rehabbing -- a guy by the name of Doc Gooden," Dozier recalled. "Even his 70-80 percent, whatever it was? It was smoking."
Dozier showed enough tools for the Mets to sign him in 1990, once he was free from his Vikings contract. His first at-bat, with Class A Advanced St. Lucie scrimmaging a local college, was eye-opening.
"I was too blind to think failure was possible," said Dozier, who now works in sales and marketing while living in Virginia Beach. "The first fastball, I stepped out of the box and thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm gonna make a fool of myself.' I could barely see that ball."
Professional baseball was hard, especially for a football player returning after a six-year layoff. But Dozier progressed, hitting well and stealing bases; a prospect, but raw.
"If you look at my stats, I might go 1-, 2-, 3-for-4, but when I didn't get a hit, it was a strikeout," Dozier said. "I was learning how to play baseball, really."
Come Spring Training 1992, Dozier thought he might make the big league club. But he barely saw the field. He opened the season with Triple-A Tidewater and struggled. When the Mets started making callups, Dozier wasn't one of them.
"It was probably the only time I'd ever been that discouraged in my athletic career," Dozier said. "I said to myself, 'What am I doing here?'"
But Dozier made peace with his situation, and on May 1, Mets left fielder Vince Coleman got hurt. At midnight, Clint Hurdle -- then the Tides' manager -- knocked on Dozier's hotel room door. He'd been called up.
Dozier made his MLB debut on May 6, 1992, and got his first hit two days later. He never returned to the NFL. Dozier only played 25 MLB games, all that season. But he made it. He went 9-for-47 in his cup of coffee, with two doubles and four stolen bases in four tries.
A few Major Leaguers -- most famously Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders -- played football and baseball simultaneously. Others, like Kirk Gibson and Kenny Lofton, were late-college crossovers from different sports. And, of course, there was Michael Jordan's short-lived Minor League foray after his first NBA retirement in 1993.
It's Dozier's trajectory, though, that's closest to the one Tebow hopes to follow now.
"I often heard that one of the reasons the Mets said 'Yes' was they knew mentally I was capable of making the adjustments," Dozier said. "In Tebow's case, as a former NFLer, he's got an advantage."
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.