Outfielder Brandon Magee is in Red Sox minor league camp. (Twitter @FootballASU)
Russell Wilson wasn’t the only NFL player in spring training on Monday.
The Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Seahawks naturally drew a massive following when he spent Monday in uniform with the Rangers. On a field of big league stars like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre, Wilson claimed celebrity status, with the interest in his day of sufficient magnitude that he had to address the media at a podium.
Thousands of miles away, another NFL player unassumingly worked out in Red Sox minor league camp. Yet Brandon Magee does not mind the absence of fanfare so long as the 23-year-old — a star linebacker at Arizona State who completed his rookie NFL season with the Cleveland Browns on injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle — gets to wear a baseball uniform.
“Every day I’m trying to learn something,” Magee said last week, shortly after arriving in Fort Myers for his first spring training with the Red Sox. “I wake up every day, I’m blessed, man. To be able to walk and run — there are people unable to run. I’m out here, the weather out here is awesome, I’m with top-flight athletes out here — it can’t get any better than this.”
Magee, a linebacker and special teamer who suited up for eight games and was credited with five tackles in 2013 before his season-ending injury, has been limited to baserunning drills and outfield work (all three positions) while in Red Sox minor league camp thus far. He is expected to get clearance to start swinging and taking batting practice during spring training.
Despite the limited activity, Magee — listed by the Browns at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds — has been beaming about the opportunity to return to the field. It’s been a long time coming.
Magee (middle) on the field in Fort Myers. (WEEI.com)
Magee played baseball briefly in parts of three seasons at ASU, going just 3-for-29 with a double, five walks and 22 strikeouts in 37 plate appearances in college. But while his football schedule prevented him from playing more than minimally at Arizona State (where he met Dustin Pedroia as a freshman), his interest in the sport did not abate, and his raw tools were breathtaking at times.
“His power is unbelievable. He’s so explosive. He’s probably the fastest guy in camp, too, to tell you the truth. He flies, man. He’s a strong dude all the way around. He moves. He’s super-fast,” gushed Sox minor league shortstop Deven Marrero, who played with Magee at ASU. “He can hit. When he touches the ball, it goes. I think the most impressive thing about him is his personality. He’s an awesome kid. He loves baseball. This is what he really wants to do.”
The Sox took Magee in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft. It was the third time he’d been drafted, but the Sox convinced him to take a $7500 signing bonus with escalating payments that could bring that figure up to $35,000 based on his future participation in the sport.
The selection represented an intriguing flier on a player with considerable raw tools — as one might expect for an NFL linebacker, he has tremendous power and he ran a 4.73 40-yard dash in the NFL combine — but whose absence of steady play for several years raises questions about how far he can advance.
But it’s something that Magee wanted to pursue. He got permission from the Browns to join the Sox, and he’ll remain with the team until reporting to his football team for OTAs later this spring.
Magee — who was signed by the Cowboys to a $70,000 bonus as an undrafted free agent, before latching on with the Browns after being cut at the end of preseason — suggests that his NFL indoctrination went well, and he looks forward to continuing to advance his gridiron career.
“[The year with the Browns] went really good. I learned a lot out there,” said Magee. “It’s a big difference from college. You’re no longer the big dog on campus. You’ve got to respect the older guys, grind every day so they respect you.”
While committed to earning that respect, however, the opportunity to pursue a rare dual-track career proved too tantalizing to ignore.
“I love baseball — that’s the deciding factor. If the Browns allow me to go, I’m going. There was no doubt in my mind,” said Magee. “They gave me the go-ahead to go and I took it, man. I was gone.”
That will lead to some logistical challenges. Magee anticipates that he’ll spend some of this year shuttling between the two pursuits, doing what he can to advance in both professions.
“It’s going to get hectic on me coming up,” he acknowledged, “but right now, I’m just enjoying the ride.”
But what will be the vehicle for that ride? Could Magee ever envision a Deion Sanders-style helicopter ride to zip from a game in one sport to the other in the same day?
“I don’t have helicopter money,” Magee mused. “Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson — they’re totally different guys. I’m trying to enjoy what I have here and trying to write my own history.”
Rob Bradford contributed to this story from Fort Myers.