The Major League Baseball draft takes place next week, and there are some clubs who would be very interested in Pat Connaughton the righthanded pitcher if it weren't for Pat Connaughton the basketball player. Even with a lot of money at stake, though, this is an easy decision. For as long as he can remember, Notre Dame's two-sport standout determined he would compete both on the court and on the diamond for as long as he could.
During the process to select a college the schools that half-heartedly entertained his desire were shrugged off, because he knew the odds were against him before he even set foot on campus. The same now goes for the 10 or 15 franchises who blinked when Connaughton declared that no matter what happened he would play one more season of college basketball this winter. That is OK, he says. Connaughton has always been comfortable with passing.
“There are some teams that aren't willing to negotiate something like that,” Connaughton said. “To be honest, that's fine. There's many that are willing to. At the end of the day, it’s just like picking a college. Why not pick a school that says you can do it and will help you succeed at it?”
Connaughton's prospects are good: He is ranked No. 128 overall by Baseball America after going 3-5 with a 3.92 ERA for Notre Dame this spring. His information suggests he will be taken within the first five rounds, that his desire to finish what he started basketball- and degree-wise at Notre Dame will be accommodated by some team. If all goes to plan, Connaughton will begin his professional baseball career in June and July and then return to campus for hoops (the Irish's August tour of Italy and the 2014-15 basketball season) before moving on to baseball full-time.
Connaughton says he’ll stick to that plan – even if his draft stock suffers so much that he plunges down the board, winds up not signing and pitches one more season for Notre Dame. “I'm pretty set on coming back to school and playing basketball and finishing up my degree,” Connaughton said. “Hopefully pro baseball will be there, and when I want to set my mind to it, [I] think I can do great things at that level. Right now, the most important thing for or me is finish school and finish my basketball time here.”
The reason he clings to basketball is clear: Everyone keeps telling him he can't or shouldn't do it. He was a lightly regarded recruit out of St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass., until late in his high school career. At Notre Dame, he became determined to prove naysayers wrong. And in an otherwise forgettable 15-17 season for the Irish last winter, the 6-foot-5 Connaughton established himself as a high-level producer, setting career-bests by averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds in 37-plus minutes per night.
“If basketball wasn't there, then obviously I'd focus on baseball,” Connaughton said. “That would be a very reasonable and logical thing to do. Fortunately, basketball is there. And fortunately, I've been able to work myself into a position where I have a big impact on the team. That's something I take pride in, and I want to stick around and help the team win.”
He fields plenty of calls anyway, citing the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels as teams who have contacted him “a lot” in advance of the draft. Most likely, some franchise will want him.
One team – the Notre Dame basketball squad – desperately needs him.
There is Connaughton, Jerian Grant who averaged 19 points per game before a one-semester suspension, and then there is nothing but unproven or inexperienced commodities on the Irish roster for 2014-15. In a way, though, Connaughton may need Notre Dame basketball nearly as much. He has a passion for the game, and he has a passion for proving people wrong.
The deal he's looking for, as always, is to make the best of both worlds.
“Playing two sports at this level has worked out pretty well,” Connaughton said “Right now, baseball seems to be the route [from which] the best success may come in the future. But why pick it now when I'm not forced to pick it?”