When Connor Stremel signed last winter to play football at nearby Baker University, he did so with the expectation that it would mean the end of his baseball career.
Following a senior baseball season in which he earned second-team all-state honors and helped the Firebirds finish fourth in Class 6A, however, he’s not quite so sure.
“It makes (the decision) a lot tougher,” Stremel said before a recent practice for Thursday’s Kansas City Metro All-Star Football Game, which will pit the top players from the Kansas side of the metro area against those from the Missouri side. “If it would have been a bad season, it would have been an easy choice: just football. But since things ended like they did, it’s going to be a little tougher to pick.”
So entering the final summer before departing for the Baldwin City-based university, he figures he owes it to himself to speak with Wildcats baseball coach Phil Hannon about the prospect of playing both sports in college.
Based on his performance over the course of the past two seasons, it’s not difficult to understand the player’s optimism.
His .351 batting average ranked third on the team this spring, as did his 16 RBIs, and he finished first on the team in stolen bases with 11 and second with a .479 on-base percentage.
“There’s no question,” said Free State baseball coach Mike Hill, asked whether Stremel could succeed as a two-sport athlete in college. “He’s an ascending player. He’s made marked improvements in the past couple of years. In baseball terms, he’s a kid that hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.”
Added teammate Michael Lisher, a member of both the football and baseball teams at Free State and a participant in Thursday’s all-star game, “He could definitely pull that off. If Connor wants to do it, he can do whatever he wants.”
There are, of course, some inherent logistical road blocks to playing multiple sports collegiately.
For one thing, Stremel’s been told that spring football practice plays a major role in determining playing time for the following fall season, which would put him in an obvious disadvantage if he were traveling with the baseball team. For another, Stremel plans to take this summer off of baseball, which means he would have gone months without playing competitive baseball if he were to suit up for the Wildcats baseball team next spring.
And all of this is to say nothing about the mental fortitude it would take to juggle two sports and a full course load as a freshman.
For the time being, however, Stremel seems content to let the summer play out.
“We’re going to see how this summer ends up and how everything ends up with football,” he said. “... But I don’t know. It’s still a thought in the back of my mind.”