- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

In the past, late July always meant one thing for Josh Fields — just a few more days until football season.

Whether it was at Stillwater (Okla.) High School or at Oklahoma State, Fields always spent this time of year preparing to play quarterback. He had quite the college career in his hometown.

First he engineered possibly the greatest win in school history — leading a then 3-7 Cowboys team to a 16-13 victory over nemesis and defending national champion Oklahoma as a freshman in 2001. Then he became the full-time starter for two years and led the Cowboys to back-to-back bowl appearances, another win against the Sooners and set school records for passing yards in a season and career touchdown passes.

Wherever Fields goes, he will be remembered as one of the great Oklahoma State quarterbacks.

“That is still kind of the way it is, even now in pro ball,” Fields said. “It is something you have to get used to. [College] football definitely is pubbed up; it is huge. I think sometimes it is even bigger than pro football, especially in the state of Oklahoma.”

While Fields may have earned legendary status during the fall, he crafted quite the baseball career at Oklahoma State during the spring. After three consecutive seasons with an on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) of more than 1.000 and All-American recognition his junior year, Fields became a big-time baseball prospect.

The Chicago White Sox, who picked another well-known third baseman from Oklahoma State — Robin Ventura — in the first round of the draft 16 years earlier, tabbed Fields with the 18th overall selection in the 2004 draft.

Fields had one year of college eligibility left, but the White Sox gave him $1.55 million to leave his football days behind.

“In my head I knew it was probably always going to be baseball, but because people think college football is so big [they thought] that I had to be a football player,” Fields said. “I think the whole time in college I knew it was going to be baseball. Once I got drafted it was pretty much a guarantee.”

Fields finished the 2004 season with Class A Winston-Salem and spent last year with Class AA Birmingham. While he continued to flash a strong arm at third base and plenty of raw power, his baseball inexperience showed. His plate discipline disappeared (216 strikeouts and only 73 walks over the two years) and his long-term viability at the hot corner was questioned.

Still, that senior season under center in the Big 12 never crept into the back of Fields’ mind.

“I think that is the only thing that kept me positive was knowing that I made the right decision,” Fields said. “Even though I was struggling, that wasn’t going to dictate me thinking I shouldn’t be there. I knew I just had to go out there and work”

This year the work has paid off. He is hitting .324 with 14 homers and 19 steals at Class AAA Charlotte.

His play at third has improved (10 errors in 88 games). Fields has cemented his place among the elite prospects in the game, and he went 2-for-3 with a double in the Futures Game earlier this month.

There has long been an obsession with college quarterbacks by baseball scouts. The White Sox once gave Stanford signal-caller Joe Borchard a $5.3 million singing bonus to keep him away from the NFL and last summer drafted former Michigan backup Clayton Richard, who spent one season in the Wolverines bullpen, in the eighth round.

There have been plenty of well-publicized busts. Another former Wolverine, Drew Henson, was once considered a future great Yankee and is now trying to salvage an NFL career. Another former Stanford Cardinal, Chad Hutchinson, has also flamed out in both professional leagues.

But Fields, unlike Henson, made the full-time commitment to baseball right away and he looks like a future major-league third baseman with star potential. Whether that will happen in Chicago remains in question.

The defending champs are struggling and general manager Kenny Williams could make a move to help the club defend its title. With his solid 2005 postseason and career year this season, Joe Crede is blocking Fields’ path. Fields’ name has popped up in trade rumors, but Williams has said he is not available. Should the team decide to keep both, a move to left field for the athletic Fields could be part of the long-term solution.

“I know baseball is the kind of sport where you just have to go take care of your own business and something will end up happening some day,” Fields said. “Whether it is soon or later on, something will happen if I keep taking care of my business and that is what I have to keep my focus on — not when I might get up there or what is going to happen with Joe [Crede] or myself.”

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