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Will Venable Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 15

Will Venable Nuccio Dinuzzo Getty Images
Will Venable (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.

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Like many kids, Will Venable grew up dreaming of pro athlete stardom. The son of former big league outfielder Max Venable had the talent and passion to play Division I athletics, and possibly make a run at a professional career.

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However, even with his MLB bloodlines, when Venable envisioned his athletic future, he imagined himself on the hardwood, dribbling a basketball.

While his big league dad didn’t push his son one way or another, in high school it was Will’s mother, Molly, who insisted that he keep up with baseball, at least to the extent that he was playing for his high school team. The younger Venable showed promise, but his focus was on the basketball court.

Basketball was the driving force behind his college decision, and in terms of his recruitment Venable’s mom also made her feelings known—when the Princeton Tigers came calling, Will needed to answer. As a California kid with some closer-to-home schools recruiting him for both his basketball and baseball talent, Venable might not have even taken the visit to cold weather Princeton, New Jersey without his mom’s encouragement.

“Princeton came real late in the game,” said Venable. “My mom just said ‘The opportunity to get a degree from that school is something that you should at least consider, and take a visit out there and check it out,’ and I did, and I loved it.”

The Ivy League education was a great selling point for Molly Venable, but for Will it meant joining a basketball program that would often be competing for the Ivy League’s automatic bid into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Just because Will had his heart set on playing in March Madness didn’t mean that Princeton baseball head coach Scott Bradley was going to pass up on an opportunity to add a talented player to his team. Venable took cuts in the batting cages with Bradley a few times a week throughout his freshman year, but eventually chose not to join the baseball team as he adjusted to Division I basketball and an Ivy League course load.

Venable finally joined the Princeton baseball team after his sophomore basketball season ended, and he’s quick to point out who the driving force behind that decision was.

“My mom,” said Venable. “She had always kind of subtly hinted at the opportunities that baseball had given my dad … once I got to college, and after that freshman year, she said ‘Hey, you really need to stick with this and give this a shot.’”

For the rest of his time at Princeton, he played both baseball and basketball. On the diamond, Venable initially struggled—not uncommon for someone with fewer at-bats under his belt than most of his peers, but with time began to be a key contributor for the Tigers. He did the same for the Princeton basketball team, serving as its second-leading scorer for the 2003-2004 squad that fell to a T.J. Ford-led Texas squad in the NCAA Tournament. Still, even with a decent amount of success in the sport that initially brought him to campus, Venable started to take a good look at in which sport his future lay.

“Kind of realizing where I fit in the basketball world, and as much as I loved the game that the NBA maybe wasn’t in my future, it just made a lot of sense to listen to mom and put the spikes on.”

Venable broke out during his second baseball season, hitting .344 and garnering the attention of the Orioles, who drafted him in the 15th round. After the O’s made little attempt to sign him, he returned to Princeton and following the conclusion of his final basketball season in the spring of 2005 he became a full-time baseball player and led the Tigers in batting average and home runs.

The Padres gambled on Venable’s athleticism, bloodlines, and the idea of what he could turn into with his focus fully on baseball, and took him with their seventh-round pick. After years of splitting time between two sports, it was time for Will Venable to catch up on some at-bats.

In the summer of 2006, his first full season, San Diego sent Venable to play for the Fort Wayne Wizards of the Low-A Midwest League. The Wizards’ hitting coach? Max Venable.

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former big league outfielder and current Cubs third base coach Will Venable joins to discuss his experience as a two-sport athlete in college, trying to figure out what kind of player he could be as a minor leaguer, and learning the art of the stolen base in the big leagues.

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