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House made wise decision sticking with baseball

Joe Rutter
| Saturday, June 23, 2001

In announcing this past week that he will continue to play baseball in the Pirates farm system, catcher J.R. House said his decision came from the heart. That might be true, but House is fooling himself if the decision also didn't come from his head.

If House thought he had a chance to use a college football career at West Virginia University as a stepping stone to the NFL, he was overestimating his abilities.

Despite setting several national passing records at Charleston's Nitro High School and throwing 10 touchdown passes in his final scholastic game, House wasn't even a lock to win the starting job at WVU this year, let alone soar the charts to college stardom.

House would have faced stiff competition this fall from incumbents Brad Lewis and Rasheed Marshall, the latter a redshirt freshman from Brashear who is considered a pretty fair quarterback.

By walking on to first-year coach Rich Rodriguez's team, House had no assurances that he wouldn't be sitting on the WVU bench this fall.

'I felt I had a chance to be successful in football. I'm self-confident about things like that,' House said Wednesday when he made his official announcement. 'I know Marshall is a good player, but that didn't impact me.'

Perhaps it should have. By sticking with baseball, House just might be sitting on the Pirates bench in September, if his play on the diamond warrants a late-season call-up.

The Pirates wisely made no promises to House when owner Kevin McClatchy, interim general manager Roy Smith and manager Lloyd McClendon sat down with him Monday. House's ascension to the big leagues will be based on merit. But he is on track to get there next summer at the latest.

Another factor that hurt House's chances of football success - and hindered his chances of cashing a hefty NFL paycheck - is his size. He is generously listed at 6-foot-1 in the Pirates media guide, a figure that some in the organization dispute.

A college quarterback who draws similar physical comparisons is Drew Brees, the record-setting passer from Purdue who is barely 6-foot tall.

For all of his accomplishments, Brees wasn't taken in April's draft until the first pick of the second round. That's 31 picks behind Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick.

One of Vick's best attributes on the football field is speed, which is the reason he was taken with the first overall pick. Brees is lacking in that area, and so is House, who stole all of two bases in his first two minor-league seasons.

One final point to consider. For all of his accomplishments in high school, House didn't exactly have Bobby Bowden or Steve Spurrier knocking on his door. He was being recruited by schools such as Tulane, Duke and West Virginia, not Florida and Florida State.

Perhaps House took all of these factors into account when he made his decision to keep playing at Class AA Altoona. Or maybe House simply came to his senses. Maybe he was haunted by the thought that he could have gone to college and become the next Ron Powlus.

House is considered a top-shelf prospect in baseball, a catcher who can be in the big leagues within a few months if he continues to develop. The Pirates think his hitting skills are major-league caliber. It's his defense that needs a little refinement before he is given the chance to play a game at PNC Park.

House can make a ton of money and have a lot of fun by continuing to play baseball.

He had no such guarantees in football.

Joe Rutter covers the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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