Picking Baseball Over Football Pays Off For Nieuwenhuis




NEW YORK—Kirk Nieuwenhuis rushed for 267 yards in a snowstorm to lead Denver Christian to a Colorado 2A football championship as a high school junior, and was recruited by Air Force, Colorado and Colorado State to play that sport. He instead chose to play baseball at Azusa Pacific, and parlayed that into becoming 2007 MVP of the Alaska Baseball League and a third-round pick (100th overall) by the Mets the following summer.
 
"I was recruited a lot more to play football than baseball," Nieuwenhuis said. "I wasn't really recruited that much to play baseball at all—I think maybe one or two Division I programs for baseball in Colorado. I wanted to get away from home a little bit and go to California. I loved football, but I knew baseball was going to be it. I knew a bunch of people at Azusa so it seemed like a good fit."

Nieuwenhuis' first full pro season couldn't have been scripted much better. The lefty-hitting center fielder batted .274/.357/.467 along with 16 steals in 20 attempts at high-A St. Lucie. He spent the final week of the season at Double-A Binghamton when Ike Davis, Shawn Bowman and Jonathan Malo left the Eastern League club to participate in the World Cup. Niewenhuis had 13 hits, five for extra bases, in 32 at-bats with the B-Mets.

The Mets named the 22-year-old Nieuwenhuis as their Sterling Award winner as the top player with St. Lucie.

"I'm not a player that goes up there trying to knock it out of the park every time," Nieuwenhuis said despite producing solid power numbers in 2009, which included 17 homers in 514 at-bats between the two levels.

One AL scout who observed Nieuwenhuis recognized the football-type qualities in the 6-foot-3, 210-pound outfielder. Nieuwenhuis played first base his senior year of high school and freshman year of college before moving to the outfield.

"He's big and strong for a center fielder and will go after anything," the scout said. "He's not afraid of the wall and runs well."

Metamorphoses

• Catcher Josh Thole plans to play for Caracas in Venezuela this winter. Thole, who is getting significant playing time for the Mets in September, likely is ticketed for Triple-A Buffalo to open 2010.

• Righthander Bobby Parnell will work as a starting pitcher in winter ball to continue auditioning for a spot in the Mets' rotation next season.