Next Sunday, Patrick Mahomes will make his first Super Bowl appearance as he leads the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers. When you see a young quarterback leading his team to the Super Bowl, it's natural to assume that he was born and bred on a strict diet of football with his adolescent years indistinguishable from the story of Friday Night Lights.
Yet, while he was born in Texas and played both high school and college football in the state, that wasn't the case at all. In fact, Mahomes at times seemed more destined for a future in MLB than the NFL. So, before we collectively revel in his brilliance on the gridiron, let's take some time to appreciate Mahomes' baseball past.
His dad was a Major League pitcher
Mahomes' baseball path begins with his dad, also named Pat Mahomes. When Patrick was born in 1995, his dad was finishing up his fourth season as a pitcher for the Twins. In fact, the day after his son was born, the elder Mahomes picked up the save after throwing 3 1/3 shutout innings against the Royals.
Unlike his son, Mahomes was never a superstar. Yet, after mostly failing as a starter in his early seasons with the Twins in the early '90s, he carved out an 11-year MLB career as a middle reliever.
Like his son who impacts the game with both his arm and his legs, Mahomes Sr. showed flashes of versatility himself. Though no one would mistake him for a middle of the order hitter, he wasn't totally helpless at the plate either with a .256 career batting average over 46 plate appearances. Not too shabby for a pitcher.
His best season came with the Mets in 1999, when he went 8-0 in 63 2/3 innings with a 3.68 ERA and hit .313 with a .813 OPS. That was enough to earn him the only postseason action of his career -- pitching against the D-backs in the NLDS and during the Mets’ loss to the Braves in the NLCS. Mahomes was a member of the 2000 Mets team that reached the World Series against the Yankees, but he was left off the postseason roster. His son Patrick did make an appearance, though.
Simply by taking a snap on Super Bowl Sunday, then, Mahomes will have officially played on a bigger stage than his father.
LaTroy Hawkins is his godfather
If having a Major Leaguer for a dad wasn't enough, Mahomes' godfather is none other than LaTroy Hawkins, who was the elder Mahomes' bullpenmate with the Twins. Hawkins may be the first scout on record to notice something special in his godson. “As a little kid, you knew that Patrick was going to be an outstanding athlete,’’ Hawkins said. “He could run, he could throw a baseball, throw a football, much easier than other kids his age.’’
Mahomes grew up playing baseball
So, of course, the younger Mahomes grew up playing baseball. He would shag flies in the outfield before his dad's games when he was a preschooler. There are stories of him receiving hitting tips from Alex Rodriguez when he and Mahomes Sr. were teammates in 2001.
Because of his dad, he was around baseball constantly as a kid. And, given the athletic gifts that he puts on display every Sunday, it's hardly surprising that he got pretty good at the game at a fairly young age.
Back in 2010 -- long before he was torching NFL defenses -- he appeared on ESPN as a shortstop for the Tyler, Texas, team that was runner-up to Taipei in the 2010 Junior League World Series.
He threw a 16-strikeout no-hitter in high school
In high school, Mahomes was a three-sport star. Obviously, he was a star quarterback for the Whitehouse High School football team and ultimately committed to play at Texas Tech. He was the star of the basketball team, and there seems to be a consensus that there could have been Division I basketball in his future if he chose to pursue it. He also continued his baseball career and was an all-around player on the diamond, starting at every position except catcher.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the arm you see on the football field translated fairly well to the mound. As a high schooler, he possessed a low-90s fastball as well as a curve that scouts said generated some swings and misses. He also had a changeup, though rarely threw it.
One of his rivals in high school was White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech, who had high praise for Mahomes' pitching, saying in 2017 that the two would have been pretty similar pitchers had Mahomes pursued that path. Considering that Kopech was a top-10 prospect in baseball with a 100 mph fastball at the time, that represents a fairly bullish scouting report on the quarterback.
Why did Kopech have such praise for his rival? Well, it's because he once lost a playoff game to Mahomes despite only giving up one earned run himself. That's because Mahomes tossed a no-hitter for the other side. It wasn't just any no-hitter, either. Mahomes struck out 16 and only gave up one run on a wild pitch in the third inning.
But it almost never was. After opening the seventh inning with two walks and a wild pitch, he had to convince his coach to let him stay in the game during a mid-inning mound visit.
Following his senior year, the Tigers selected him as a pitcher in the 37th round of the 2014 MLB Draft, though it's likely he would have gone considerably higher if he weren't committed to play quarterback at Texas Tech.
He could hit, too
Even though he was most impressive on the mound, Mahomes was impressive in the field and at the plate as well. According to Tim Grieve, the Tigers' area scout when the team picked Mahomes, one could have made an argument that he was just as valuable as a position player. Grieve said he played center field for Whitehouse, hit in the middle of the order and used a wood bat while his peers were using aluminum.
Remember that no-hitter against Kopech? Well, Whitehouse played another game that day. Despite throwing 111 pitches in that game, Mahomes played the field later that evening, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. As evidenced by Grieve's comments, that performance wasn't an aberration.
He played (a little) at Texas Tech
Although his primary focus at Texas Tech was football, Mahomes still stuck with baseball ... sort of. During his freshman year, he made three appearances with the baseball team -- two as a pinch-hitter and one as a pitcher. At the plate, he went 0-for-2 with a strikeout.
Things didn't go much better for him on the mound. He faced three batters in his only relief appearance. He walked the first batter and followed that by plunking the next guy who stepped up to the plate. Then, he walked the third batter he faced before he was replaced on the mound. All three of those baserunners would eventually score in the inning. So, not great.
Luckily for Mahomes, the football thing worked out a bit better.
He's still got it
Clearly, Mahomes still has the sort of speed and arm strength that would translate to the baseball field. Just watching him play football sparks fantasies of him stealing second or throwing an overly ambitious runner out at the plate from the outfield.
But what about that power stroke he showed off back in his days at Whitehouse High School? It looks like it might still be there.
As evidenced by the walks and wild pitches he surrendered in that high school no-hitter, Mahomes' wasn't the most polished player on the mound and occasionally struggled with control -- scouts have attributed that to playing other sports and not specializing in baseball.
Based on a ceremonial first pitch he threw in 2018, that report still holds.
So, when you watch Mahomes scramble around and throw bombs down the field in the Super Bowl, keep in mind that this isn't just a special football player you're watching. This is a uniquely special athlete who probably could have been a pro in other sports as well.
Eric Chesterton is a writer for MLB.com. He is an appreciator of the stolen base, the bunt against the shift and nearly every unconventional uniform design. He eagerly awaits Jamie Moyer's inevitable comeback.