Jared Mitchell is taking it all in. At age 20, he’s seen success on the field that most athletes can only dream about.
In June, he led Louisiana State University to a national championship at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. He was named Most Outstanding Player, batting .348 with two homers, two doubles, a triple and seven RBIs.
And oh, by the way, Mitchell also plays football. He’s a two-sport athlete who became just the second player in LSU history to win national titles in both baseball and football — he was wide receiver for the Tigers, who defeated Ohio State, 38-24, in the BCS National Championship game in January.
The Chicago White Sox took him as their first-round draft pick in July. By foregoing his senior year at LSU, Mitchell is getting a head-start on his baseball career — and that career is starting in Kannapolis.
Impressive for a 20-year-old, for sure, but it didn’t seem to phase Jared.
“I’m taking it all in,” he said before last Saturday’s game against the Lakewood BlueClaws, “just living in the moment.”
Growing up, Jared played all sports — baseball, basketball, football, soccer — and dropped them as he went along.
“He was playing any kind of ball when he was 5 years old,” father Craig Mitchell said.
While Jared’s older brother would be playing little league baseball games, Jared would be on an empty field, running and sliding into bases, Craig said, coming back all dirty, but ready to head out for more.
By the time he was eight, Jared was playing four different sports and played them all the way into junior high school. He loved the competition, Craig said, and he loved to win.
But at age 11, Jared’s interest in baseball exploded when he joined a select league.
“At first he didn’t want to do it,” Craig said. “We went to an organizational meeting and there were other kids throwing the ball around. When he saw those kids that were at his level or better, he jumped in there and got excited.”
His parents traveled all over Louisiana and Mississippi, following Jared and his team.
Jared was competitive at everything, and wanted to be the best — at school and in sports.
“When he was in the fifth-grade, he got his first “B” on a report card,” his mother Debra said. “He didn’t like it. I told him getting a B was OK, but if he wanted an A, he would have to work harder.”
Jared learned competitiveness from his older brother, Derek, with whom Jared would play. Jared would come in the house, all roughed up by Derek and his friends, Debra said, but that contributed to Jared’s competitive nature.
By high school, Jared had dropped basketball, was the quarterback of the football team and was playing baseball.
The Minnesota Twins tried to draft Mitchell in the 2006 amateur draft. He was 17 years old and about to graduate high school.
The Twins kept telling Jared he was going to be their first-round draft pick. Then he got a call from the Twins, saying they were going with someone else.
“He was honest with them all the time,” Debra said. “He trusted that what they were telling him was what they were going to do, and when he got the phone call, he couldn’t believe it.”
What was the Twins’ loss was LSU’s gain — Jared enrolled at the school to play football and baseball.
“People ask me which sport is he better at,” Craig said. “I think he is equally good at both — he just hasn’t had a lot of time on the football field.”
In his freshman year, Mitchell led his teammates in stolen bases and batted .258 with three home runs and 21 RBIs. But it was in a game against Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas where Jared showed his mettle.
Late in the ninth inning, he made an over-the-wall catch of a potential game-tying home run. Instead, the Tigers won, 5-3.
That play jump-started a young LSU team over the seventh-ranked team in the country at the time, said Paul Mainieri, LSU’s baseball coach.
“He made plays like that every year he was here,” Mainieri said. “We grew to expect him to make those types of plays.”
From there, his play on the diamond was nothing short of spectacular. At the end of his junior year, he racked up 50 RBIs, a .327 batting average and led the Tigers to win the College World Series.
“Jared Mitchell was the most electric player in college baseball this season,” Mainieri said. “His combination of power and speed was phenomenal. The critical thing for him this was not to participate in spring football training.”
That allowed Jared to focus on baseball completely — something that helped him and the LSU baseball team immensely.
“I said many time that he would be a pro player if he was totally focused on the sport of baseball,” Mainieri said, “And I didn’t stand in his way when he signed with the White Sox. He was ready.”
This is the second year in a row the Intimidators drew a first-round draft pick from the home ball club. Infielder Gordon Beckham, who played at the University of Georgia, spent a few weeks in Kannapolis last year, before moving up through the minors and eventually drawing a spot on the White Sox’s active roster this year.
Jared arrived at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium on July 8 and donned a Kannapolis Intimidators uniform, but he didn’t take the field. The higher-ups wanted him to take a rest coming off the CWS, and placed him on the seven-day disabled list before letting him jump into the minor league grind.
“I’ve been resting,” he said after batting practice. “This is the longest break I’ve taken since I was in college.”
His focus, as always, is to better learn the game that he loves.
“I’m here just to get better and to help the team,” he said. “This is what I want to do.”
Debra Mitchell said she didn’t think signing a major-league contract would change her son.
“I think he will still work hard,” she said. “He always has, from a very young age. He never thought he was above criticism. He was always willing to learn more, do things differently, always been a team player.”
And on his recent success, all he could do was smile.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said.