Cubs drafted 49ers’ Kaepernick in 2009, but he wasn’t interested
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org January 29, 2013 10:50PM
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Updated: March 2, 2013 7:16AM
Tim Wilken never saw him play baseball. Neither did Sam Hughes.
In fact, none of the top sets of eyes in the Cubs’ scouting department had the chance because “headstrong” Colin Kaepernick stopped playing the game after a dominant high school run in California.
But that run lasted just long enough for the Cubs to get just strong enough reports from their area scouts to put the skinny right-hander in their long-term plans even as he opted to play football at the University of Nevada.
And just like that, the scouting director of the Cubs found himself monitoring Nevada Wolf Pack football games, scouting a quarterback.
‘‘When you get someone that has that kind of arm or that kind of frame, you can dream a little bit,’’ said that scouting director, Wilken.
Wilken and Cubs cross-checker Hughes dreamed big enough to spend a 43rd-round pick on Kaepernick as soon as he became draft-eligible again in 2009.
And the rest is history.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, it’s football history, being made this week as the long-shot, second-year NFL quarterback leads the San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens after starting the season on the bench.
‘‘I sure would have loved to have seen what [baseball] would have looked like,’’ Wilken said. ‘‘We kind of chirp on each other in the scouting industry, and guys’ll say, ‘That’s a good [story], but you never got him into the boat.’ ’’
It doesn’t mean Wilken wouldn’t do it all over again — he says he wouldn’t hesitate, especially after watching the rise of former football star Jeff Samardzija, who might be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter this year.
‘‘It wasn’t a fly-by-night like the Rockies did when they took Michael Vick and he’d never play,’’ Wilken said. ‘‘This was legitimate. We were kind of hoping we could coax him into trying the Cubs out and see what it would be like over a summer and maybe he would fall in love with the sport.’’
Kaepernick, who added more than 40 pounds to his 6-5 frame in college, was a rail-thin pitcher in high school with a 92 mph fastball and enough command and skill to throw two no-hitters and get invitations to national showcase events.
Football? Not so much. According to media reports during his college days, he didn’t get any scholarship offers until doing his own recruiting of nearly every FBS program in the country — and then got only one.
By the time the Cubs were watching Wolf Pack games, they also were reaching out to NFL scouts who all saw the same flawed “sling action” delivery that made them project him as a more likely CFL player than NFL player.
Which gave the Cubs at least some hope in making a case for baseball, though they didn’t share those NFL projections with the notoriously stubborn and fiery Kaepernick.
‘‘That probably would have fired him up more [to prove them wrong],’’ Wilken said.
He also was concerned enough about drawing industry attention to the Cubs’ interest in a college quarterback that he and Hughes wouldn’t chance so much as a throwing session for scouts before the draft.
‘‘We didn’t really know, didn’t really have enough time to know if we really had a shot,’’ Wilken said.
The Cubs were prepared to pay Kaepernick $50,000 or more as a bonus plus an additional guarantee to pay for him to finish school if he eventually chose to give up his football scholarship. They also were willing to let him leave his minor-league team early that summer to return for football practice at Nevada — the kind of offer John Elway took with the Yankees while at Stanford.
If the negotiations went anything like Tuesday’s discussion with reporters, it was a short conversation.
Kaepernick said he never seriously considered the Cubs’ offer.
‘‘Because I love football,’’ he said.
For all that talent, all that potential and all that success when he did play, how did baseball fit in his life? What did it do for him?
‘‘It kept my arm strong,’’ he said.
Anybody wanna talk football?
‘‘He’s pretty headstrong,’’ Wilken said. ‘‘He did what he wanted to do. Give the kid credit for believing in what he could really do. It’s probably one of his better traits as a player.’’
Wilken doesn’t claim to know how things would’ve turned out if Kaepernick would’ve become a Cub. But watching him emerge this season, he knows one thing.
‘‘We weren’t able to do it,’’ Wilken said, ‘‘but I think we were really right on the makeup.’’
Contributing: Sean Jensen, Rick Morrissey