One night you’re in front of double digit baseball crowds in Albany. Literally, 24 hours later, taking warm-ups in Yankee stadium preparing to start is your new reality. Pressure bust pipes as it would for most people thrust into a similar situation, unless your name is Deion Sanders.
A quarter century ago this evening, a 21-year-old “Primetime” made his Major League Baseball debut with the New York Yankees. “You sprinkle a crowd around me,” Sanders told the New York Times, “and that’s what I like. Then, you’ll see what I can do.”
Confidence should never be confused with arrogance pending the results match the hype. Deion not only threw out a base runner in the first inning, but drove in a run in the fourth and later ignited a barrage of five runs in the seventh eventually giving the Bronx Bombers a 9-5 win over Ken Griffey, Jr. and the Seattle Mariners.
Style and substance have always been the marquee combination of what most view as the Yankees calling card. The Yankees front office – who made him a 30th round selection in 1988 – saw both in Deion and from there the battle to become the primary apple of his eye was on. Only a month earlier, Sanders was the fifth overall selection in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.* And with training camp starting two months later, very little chance of Deion skipping training camp existed.
“Football is my first love, but baseball is growing on me,” he said. “A lot of things have changed. This is a big deal.”
True to his word, Prime never abandoned the diamond, much to the chagrin and dousing of Tim McCarver. Deion’s love affair (and marketing boom) with both continued well into the next decade, only sitting out the 1996, 1998 and 1999 seasons before calling it quits in 2001 as a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
And since we’re on the topic speaking of two-sport megastars, watch this clip of Deion and Bo Jackson during a 1990 meeting between the Yankees and Royals.
* – How good were the first five picks of that ’89 draft? Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Thomas and Deion are all Hall of Famers. One of the great “what if’s” revolves around Green Bay taking Barry at No. 2 (instead of Tony Mandarich) and still manages to trade for Brett Favre two years later in the 1991 draft.