An athlete as talented as Cam Newton could've picked his sport growing up, and he wisely chose football.
But from nine to 14, the Atlanta native and new Patriots quarterback played baseball, at least until his nascent career was curtailed by a phobia that should resonate with every batter who ever stepped into the box with shaky knees.
"I was afraid of the pitches," Newton said.
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Speaking to ESPN in 2013, Newton explained his initial dalliance with baseball and his ultimate abandonment of the sport.
"I played center field because I loved Ken Griffey Jr.," Newton said in an as-told-to essay. "I really admired him. I was always a pretty good athlete, so my coach would shuffle me around to third base or shortstop, which was fine with me. This was when the Braves were good, and they had Chipper Jones, and I was also a big fan of Derek Jeter's. Those pickup, backyard games were the most fun — just those warm nights in the South where you smell the fresh-cut grass and walk home exhausted. Those nights were the best."
Then Newton got to middle school and something changed. The pitchers started throwing a lot harder.
"I quit baseball at 14 because I was afraid of the pitches," Newton told ESPN. "The kids started getting better and throwing faster, and it would've hurt getting hit by that ball, so I stopped playing."
Newton moved on to basketball, where his massive size created unwitting foul problems, but football was always his thing. He got over his fear of being hit by playing linebacker. That's where the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder learned to dish out punishment rather than absorb it, a trait that made him an NFL MVP in 2015.
"My first position in football was linebacker, actually, which helped me more than anything," he told ESPN. "It gave me the mechanism to want to hit rather than to cringe at the thought of being hit. So when I got the opportunity to play offense, it was nothing. I wasn't shying away from contact. If anything, I was initiating it. I think that's what kind of made me stand out at an early age."
And as for baseball?
"My mom always wondered how I could be afraid of a little baseball when I always had these huge guys chasing me," Newton told ESPN. "It's a good question."