On this episode of Where are they now? We look at how Dakota Allen has gone from Netflix’s Last Chance U to the NFL Draft. We look at his journey back to Texas Tech and how he was able to turn his life around to potentially playing in the NFL. I also give you my prediction on which NFL team could bring in the linebacker to their roster for the 2019 season.
This week Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray will have a decision to make in the coming months whether to play football in the NFL or play baseball in Oakland’s minor league system. There have been many examples of athletes making a decision on a sport to play, however one decision nearly two decades ago had a major impact on both the baseball and football world. Drew Henson was a two sport phenom and had to choose playing baseball with the Yankees or returning to Michigan to compete for the Heisman trophy. On this episode we look at the impact of Henson’s decision and how life has come full circle for what he is doing now.
What were your glory days? The days when everything in your life was perfect and your life’s dream was fulfilled. How does one measure these days of bliss? In weeks? Months? Hours? For one man it was days, 21 days to be exact.
For 21 days life was perfect for Crash Davis. For those three weeks Davis, whose lifelong passion was the game of baseball was in the major leagues. Playing on emerald green diamonds in front of 40,000 fans under the lights of prime time. Then, just as quickly as his dream was realized, it was over.
Crash Davis is a legend, just not the one you hear about. In the pantheon of baseball lore the names of the greats like Ruth, Gehrig, Mayes, Aaron, Robinson, and C.Y. Young have become to american society super natural beings such as the gods and ancient heroes of Greece. For Davis, he is not one of these iconic figures, but rather a man whose journey could be appropriately described as a greek tragedy.
For 12 years Davis was a minor league player, the baseball purgatory where players are either trying to find a way to the majors, and veterans are desperately trying to claw their way back. Still, Crash’s legacy among the baseball misfits is considered the greatest. Davis was in the record books with 432 career minor league home runs the most in minor league history. A record that stood until August 2015 when Mike Hessman, another career minor leaguer, launched his 433rd home run toppling Crash’s record which stood for almost thirty years.
Despite his offensive records and his immeasurable gift for helping players in the minors he helped make the jump into the show, Davis just couldn’t crack the big leagues again. “I was always the player to be named later” Davis told me. “I knew how things worked and that I was just a piece that helped to finish a trade. The kinda guy that would help move their prized horses through the system, but not a guy who would help them in the bigs”.
Now years after hanging up his shin guards and catcher’s mitt, he is one again in baseball’s purgatory. Now the manager Mobile BayBears, the Double A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Crash is nurturing the next generation of baseball players. Once again he is a leader of a team, this time just not squatting behind the plate.
“It’s a challenge but I help the guys I can. It’s tough though. There are guys like me who have the all the smarts but not the talent to make it, and the players with all the talent in the world but can’t hold a thought in their head.
After all my years I found that the ones who have a bit a of both usually make it. Baseball is cruel though because you do see the guys that god gave a thunderbolt arm and who piss their talent away squeak through with talent, while guys like me are screwed because they’re not talented enough despite knowing the actual game. But that’s just how it’s always worked”.
When I asked what he thinks is the most important thing that Davis can influence the guys in he says it’s all about their communication with the media.
“At this point you can tweak or put the finishing touches on guys but they are what they are. I tell them to give simple cliche answers when interviewed or on social media. It’s boring but their attitude on the field is not what people want to hear”.
Me: “What attitude do you mean Crash”?
Davis: ” You gotta be cocky and arrogant. Even when you’re getting killed out their you gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.”
Me: “You mean fear and ignorance”?
Davis: “No you hayseed. Arrogance. You gotta walk around like you’re the best goddamn player on the planet. You gotta fear that players and our own limitations, but when you step between those lines you let everyone know that your their best and you’re not intimidated by anyone”.
Like his playing career before Crash is helping countless minor leaguers get their chance to play under the bright lights of the major leagues. And like his playing days he is still waiting for the call that tells him he is back in the show. Still, when people talk about Crash Davis, or his name flows to the top of baseball conversation he won’t be known for what he could do as a major league manager.
Instead it’s his minor league odyssey. How he continued to take buses and live the grueling life of a minor league player even after he knew he had no chance to be back in the bigs. But for Crash it was never about the money, the fame, the glory, and even to play in the majors for a long time. Why did he play baseball? For the love of the game.
Thad Castle is a lightning rod, period. Whether it’s on or off the field, no football player has brought more attention and controversy to the game of football. Beginning with his glory days at Blue Mountain State, where he was the premier defensive player in college football, Castle has provided both jaw dropping playmaking ability and controversy. For a four-year period he was one of, if not the most dominating defensive force that college football has ever seen. However, despite his greatness, Castle is known more for his off the field shenanigans then his actual football play. Whether it’s complaining to NCAA officials that defensive players don’t win the Heisman trophy, a drug scandal on a boat that resulted in a one game suspension, threatening opposing players, and of course his arrest for a house party. Oh, not to mention he did his best Brett Favre impression and sent pictures of a certain body part to female BMS students.
After his senior year the question was where would he be selected in the NFL Draft? Would a team overlook the rampant off the field issues and draft Castle on his pure talent alone? When it was announced that Castle would be the cover athlete for NCAA Football 2012, it sparked a firestorm. Thousands of emails and letters were sent to EA Sports demanding that Castle be removed from the cover for being a terrible representation of the college athlete. When EA Sports announced that they would release a second copy with Mark Ingram on the cover Castle responded: “I knew it! These people just don’t get how great I am!” Surprisingly, the Castle cover became the highest selling copy of an EA video game to that point. After the cover controversy, Castle would be drafted by the New York Jets. However, Castle thought it was criminal because he was a first round talent and that team’s had made the biggest of their lives. Hey went to Twitter say “Tebow’s a first round pick and I’m not? What is this a conspiracy? #WTH”. While Castle was furious about not being selected in the first round, and even threatened to not attend training camp at all, Rex Ryan was excited to have Castle on the team. Ryan: “He’s a ferocious and aggressive football player. Did we know about the off the field issues? Of course, but we know this kid loves to play football and that he can be a playmaker on our defense. I love his swagger and know that he’ll bring the attitude to our defense”. Castle would make an instant impact with the Jets by knocking out Mark Sanchez in training camp for the season. At first this seemed like a bad thing, until people realized that this was a blessing in disguise since Mark Sanchez couldn’t play quarterback. In his rookie season Castle would have 145 tackles, 15 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions. Leading the number 1 defense in football, Castle propelled the Jets to a 17-7 victory in the Super Bowl where he was the MVP with a defensive touchdown and 15 tackles.
But once again, Castle’s biggest opponent wasn’t an offense, but his own success. Following the Super Bowl, Castle was arrested for possession of drugs and was found naked in his hotel room holding the Lombardi trophy. When asked about this behavior, NFL star Rob Gronkowski told Sports Illustrated : “jeez and I thought I liked to party. Castle makes me look like Tim Tebow!” After a tumultuous sophomore year in the league, which included two suspensions for the drug use in the off-season and for biting Tom Brady’s leg, Roger Goodell went on the war path stating that if Castle did not change his ways, he would be out of the NFL. Of course, this is Thad Castle we are talking about. That night he tweeted “Goodell is just jealous because he wishes he was a football star and not some loser wannabe #ThadRules”. We all know what happened next. Thad got suspended, Goodell got his way, and Castle went to twitter to infamously tweet: “FU NFL”. Despite the suspension, Castle still was still in the mainstream. He tried to become an action star in his own movie, Road Rage. The movie was a disaster from Castle’s terrible “acting”, and was critically panned by critics. But was this really a surprise? Really? Thad plus acting is not an equation that ends well. It didn’t help with all of the negative publicity about Castle getting into fights on the set and constantly pranking the director. At least he made millions off of his “Guck Foodell” t-shirts.
When he returned to the grid iron, he would once again help to lead the Jets to a second Super Bowl victory. However, after he flipped off Goodell when he took the Lombardi Trophy and told him to “suck it”, Goodell snapped. On the Super Bowl podium in front of the world he told Castle that he was done in the NFL.
Today, Castle is 29 years old and playing in the Canadian Football league. There he is trying to jumpstart his NFL and acting careers, both so far unsuccessfully. Currently he is in a heated battle in court trying to fight his NFL suspension to be reinstated. Castle’s main defense that while his actions, while idiotic, weren’t criminal. While he continues to fight the NFL ban and try to find a director gullible enough to give him an acting role, Castle has continues to play in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. There, he has led them to two consecutive championships and has won the defensive player of the year twice. While his antics have continued north of the border, one anonymous GM told me that Castle will never be banned from the CFL. “Are you kidding me? Of course they wouldn’t suspend him. He’s the main attraction for the CFL right now and has brought countless revenue and media attention to this league. Now the CFL is a headliner because of Thad Castle. Now were in the same conversation with the NFL! He’s too big in the CFL and could get away with anything”.
While Goodell has made it known that he is trying to clean up the NFL, he might consider the Castle suspension because of the media magnet he’s become. Hey negative attention is better than no attention at all am I right? Whatever happens to Thad in the future two things are for certain. He is one of the best football players in the game today, and that he will be a media lightning rod. Heck just look at his twitter. Why else does he have over 15 million followers. Hey it’s Thad’s world, and all we can do is just sit back and wait to see what he is going to do next.
In any relationship there is give and take. When it comes to Gordon Bombay and the game of hockey, it’s been a rocky but satisfying relationship. It’s had heartbreak; The death of his father, being pushed to far as a kid by a ruthless coach, and blowing out his knee missing out on his opportunity to play in the NHL. However, for all the blows that hockey has dealt, it’s the positives that Bombay is known for. Taking the worst team in Minnesota to the state championship, and having the U.S.A. junior team to pull off the major upset against the best team in the world, Iceland. After the Junior Good Will victory, Bombay shocked the hockey world when he accepted the American ambassador role for the Good Will games. “I felt that I could’ve helped more kids in need in that position. The Ducks had grown up and I knew that I needed to let them soar on their own. Was it hard? It was the most difficult decision in my life but in the end I knew I would always be there for the Ducks whenever they needed me”. After helping hundreds of kids, the games would come to a close in 1998 and Bombay would be out of a job. What to do? The Ducks were all grown up and had gone their separate ways. While in L.A. Bombay was one of the driving forces
behind Anaheim getting a pro hockey franchise. When they looked a namesake, they looked no further than Bombay’s team for inspiration and adopted the banner Bombay helped to create. Although, it’s no coincidence, after all Bombay was always great at persuasion from his lawyer days. After establishing a franchise in L.A., Bombay used his abundant free time to help bring back a franchise back to Minnesota. After the North Stars departed after the 1993 season, Minneapolis was without a pro franchise. Bombay would be one of the men who lobbied to get an NHL franchise back, and in 2000 the dream was realized. Since their inception Bombay has remained in the Wild front office and is in charge of the player development. When asked if he would ever return to behind the bench again, Bombay smiles and stays with a chuckle, “I’m retired”. However, I follow the Minnesota miracle man after he leaves the Wild facility. When he stop his black Lincoln on the edge of a sea of glass ice, he puts on a pair of skates and grabs his stick from the backseat. Then I look out through the frozen mist and see the Ducks, like apparitions gliding through the winter evening. The stop when they see their former protege and burst out in a joyous roar. Then I see the group that enthralled a nation, resume what they’ve been doing for years, flying across the truth. Then I remember those famous words that Bombay once said and know that it is really true. Ducks will always fly together!
“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die”. These were the words that Benjamin Rodriguez lived by growing up. A simple yet powerful phrase that constantly reminded him that he could always be better.
Growing up in the San Fernando valley just outside of Los Angeles, Rodriguez didn’t play but lived the game baseball. With a Dodgers cap atop his head Rodriguez spent as much time as he could on the diamond. From sun up to sun down, if you wanted to find Benny just go to the ball field. His longtime friend Scott Smalls described Rodriguez’s obsession in an interview saying “Benny would have played ball day, night, rain, shine, tidal wave, whatever. Baseball was the only thing he cared about”.
After finishing high school as one of the top prospects in the nation, Rodriguez was drafted by his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the second round. It didn’t take long for Rodriguez to impress to Dodgers brass. Tommy Lasorda recalls the first time he saw Rodriguez on the field. “We were playing a inter-squad game in Vero Beach that spring and I remember Rodriguez lacing a single and then preceding to steal second and third. Then I saw the lead he was getting off of third and thought there’s no way he’s crazy enough to steal home. When he swiped home I just looked at my staff and their mouths were on the floor. After that day I knew we had a star in the making”.
By the age of 20, Rodriguez was hitting leadoff for the Dodgers and leaving his mark on baseball history. When he was 22, Rodriguez earned his nickname, Benny the Jet, by setting the Major League record for stealing home in a season. That year Rodriguez swiped home a record seven times, while hitting .355, and stealing a total of 71 bases. With Rodriguez’s unique 5 tool set, he helped the Dodgers win two World Series Championships, became a three-time MVP, and 11 time all-star. Sadly, “The Jet” was grounded before he reached pinnacle.
In pursuit of Ty Cobb’s infamous 54 home steals, Rodriguez was just two away from tying the record when he tried for number 53. This time as he slid toward home plate his right knee would connect with the catchers shin guard, his knee buckled. From that day forward Rodriguez never made a full recovery and never stole home again. Being only 31 at the time, it was only a matter of time until Rodriguez would have broken Cobb’s record.
Despite the injury Rodriguez would play for three more seasons. With his range crippled, the Dodgers moved him to first base where for two seasons he belted 45 home runs and hit for a .300 average. Despite this, the declining Rodriguez seemed destined to be moved to the American League to be the DH for the remainder of his career. However, Rodriguez wanting to only play for the Dodgers and realizing how far his skills had declined abruptly retired at 34. When he retired he had 1,301 stolen bases, 52 of which were home,with a career batting average of .317, and 396 home runs.
Retirement was tough on Rodriguez because for the first time in his life he wasn’t playing. “At first I just couldn’t handle it. I was in a dark place for a while without baseball. I tried to separate my self from the game, but I was depressed. Heck, Smalls even tried to get me in the booth, but that just wasn’t for me”.
After years of internal turmoil, baseball brought Benny back. After being given the manager’s job for the Las Vegas 51s, the Dodgers former Triple A team, Rodriguez realized that he had found what he was supposed to do. “I realized that I could make a difference in young players lives and loved the challenge”. Now the hitting coach with the Dodgers Rodriguez’s latest triumph is the Dodger’s latest phenom, Yasiel Puig. “It’s easy working with him, I’ve never seen a player with so much talent and a love for the game. It’s easy to work with someone who loves the game so much, and he reminds me of myself when I was playing”. When asked about the possibility of leaving for a managerial job Rodriguez replied “I’d never leave this organization. I was born a Dodger, I’ll die a Dodger”.
Benny the Jet will always have his place in Dodger history and in Cooperstown. One thing is for certain, this is one legend that will never die.