PHOENIX—Tracy Smith was driving home from Phoenix Municipal Stadium early in the baseball season when he heard the ping of a metal bat hitting a ball. The Arizona State head coach looked to see his new freshman outfielder Coltin Gerhart staying late in the batting cages.
“There was one guy hitting and it was him alone,” Smith said.
Gerhart had some catching up to do. While the rest of his baseball teammates had the fall and winter to get into form, the first day of spring practice was also Gerhart's first on the diamond. Before then, he had been busy playing football.
“I’m a little underdeveloped because I’ve been playing two sports my whole life,” Gerhart said. “I guess I’m just a raw athlete and use my athleticism. Sometimes it makes up for it.”
Gerhart spent the football season redshirting at quarterback for the Sun Devils after entering the program as a three-star recruit from Murrieta, Calif. When he started in leftfield and batted third for the season opener against Oklahoma State on Feb. 13, he became the first Arizona State football player to play in a baseball game since Brandon McGee in 2011. Clearly the limited preseason training didn’t hurt Gerhart’s transition into the lineup—he singled on his first at-bat.
“It’s very rare you see a young guy to come out like that, but it was something that we’re going to reward guys on what they do, not necessarily on how long they’ve been with us,” Smith said. “If guys deserve to play, they’ll play.”
Gerhart entered spring practice in tremendous shape thanks to his football conditioning. During batting practice at the newly renovated Phoenix Municipal Stadium, he became the first player to knock one out of the park.
That wasn’t the first time Gerhart impressed Sun Devils teammates with his baseball skills. When the football team made its annual preseason trip to Camp Tontozona in Payson, Ariz., for workouts and team building, the players engaged in a Wiffle ball tournament. Gerhart shined, flying around making plays.
“He’s just a natural,” rising senior quarterback Mike Bercovici said. “He looks really comfortable at the plate and out in the field. I’m excited to watch him throw.”
As two of Arizona State’s four quarterbacks, Bercovici and Gerhart spent a lot of time together this past season. Bercovici likes to rib Gerhart for how formal he dresses—Bercovici says he “dresses for class like he’s going to prom”—but the respect he has for the dual-sport athlete is obvious.
“You have to be extremely competitive because when you do start going into that new locker room with the new sport, you have to catch up where they left off,” Bercovici says. “Nothing’s going to be handed to you because you haven't been with the guys all season.”
The combination of football and baseball runs in Gerhart's family. His older brother, Toby, played both sports at Stanford and now is a running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Toby was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2009 and played baseball for the Cardinal for three seasons, hitting .288 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in ‘09.
Arizona State redshirt senior outfielder Trever Allen sees Coltin as the future. Allen has manned rightfield for years, but after his graduation, Gerhart might be the heir. Allen is well aware and has taken Gerhart under his wing to try to ensure the continued success of the program.
Heading into this weekend’s three-game series at Oregon, Gerhart has appeared in nine of the Sun Devils’ 19 games and has started four of them in either left and right field. After beginning the year with hits in two of his first three games, Gerhart has gone hitless in his last nine at-bats to drop his batting average to .133 on the season.
The word "off-season" holds little meaning for Gerhart. As soon as the baseball team wraps up its last game, he will trade in his baseball spikes for football cleats. It’s all part of the life of a dual-sport athlete, something most college players leave behind after high school.
Bercovici was a catcher and third baseman at Taft (Calif.) High but can only admire the special kind of athlete capable of playing two sports at a major college program.
“You know the type of raw talent he has,” Bercovici says. “At the end of the day, there’s hard workers and then there’s people who are extremely talented when it comes to sports, and Coltin’s in the really small percentage who can do both.”
Justin Emerson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. This story is the product of a partnership between the Cronkite School and Sports Illustrated.