By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — Last summer these were the two options the University of Oregon gave Francis Christy of Casa Grande.
It was a choice a teenager should not have to make.
Francis, we are offering you a scholarship to play baseball for Oregon. If you bypass your spring classes at Casa, get your GED, enter Oregon in January, in time to play for the Ducks that spring, we will give you a 100 percent scholarship.
If, however, you decide to stay in high school through graduation and enter Oregon in the fall, you will receive a 75 percent ride.
The financial comparison: $35,000 represents a full ride, $26,250 if you wait.
Your decision, pal.
The Oregon folks knew what they had. Christy, a catcher, is likely to have a professional future. His Casa coach, Paul Maytorena, said pro scouts have told him Christy is one of the five best high school catchers in America. Ten Major League scouts have watched Christy play. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and all of it lean, Christy offers a combination that makes colleges and scouts drool. He can hit for power and average. He has a strong arm and a quick release to second base. He bats left-handed. “And you can’t tell if he went 0-for-4 or 4-for-4,” Maytorena said. “In big games a lot of hitters disappear. Not Francis. He rises to the occasion.”
Compared to the talent that has passed through Casa, Maytorena said Christy is at the same skill level as the best whoever played at the school, players like Rob Garibaldi, Phill Lowery, Matt Nadolski and the Gomes brothers. Francis is the complete package, Maytorena said.
The Oregon folks knew with that kind of upside Christy may be selected in the upcoming June Free Agent draft. So let’s get the kid to Eugene now. Get him on our beautiful campus. Let him see our beautiful stadium. Immerse him in college life. Watch his eyes open, his smile widen because, you know, Oregon is a premier NCAA destination, for both athletics and education. We ain’t no backcountry hick place. We ain’t a bunch of tomato cans.
Christy, who carries a 3.0 GPA overall, is keen to get his degree in kinesiology and has the gray matter to do it.
And it’s not like his dilemma is all that rare.
“I got to know Jared Goff in the last year,” Christy said. Goff is the stellar quarterback for Marin Catholic who has skipped his spring term at Marin Catholic. Goff is now enrolled at UC Berkeley on full scholarship.
“Happens all the time,” said Christy, kids skipping their spring term at their high school to move up the ladder. Ambition and money being alluring motivators.
The dilemma Oregon set in front of Christy, 17, was based on money. Christy would lose $8,750 if he waited until the fall to enter Oregon. And money, to those of us who don’t have enough of it, finds its way into almost every decision we make in life. So a free college education at a prominent Division I NCAA university — worth $140,000 if Christy was to stay all four years — what’s not to like about that offer? How could Christy refuse?
But he did. On Nov. 14 Christy signed his national letter-of-intent with Oregon, telling the Ducks he would enter the university this coming fall. He knew very well what he was doing and, in retrospect, it wasn’t a tough decision.
“I would miss out on what happens to seniors the last half of their senior year,” Christy said. “There’s prom, for example. There’s my teammates. I didn’t want to dis them for the entire season. This is our last chance to win something. And I’ve played with these guys since my freshman year.”
That’s just the tip of Christy’s reasoning. He knows what lies ahead for him. He knows money and the discussion of it will be taking up more and more space in his life. It might even take place this June. Christy said if he is drafted by the 10th or 11th rounds, he would have to take a serious look at the signing bonus offered.
“It’s not about the love of money,” Christy said of playing baseball. It’s still a game to him, with his buds, with his coaches, with playing for dear ol’ Casa.
“High school baseball, to Francis, still has some innocence for him,” Maytorena said. “He’s not trying to grow up quick.”
Christy still wants to enjoy being a kid, albeit a big one, and though there is some innocence there, there’s also some maturity. At Casa, he’s only going to pass this way once and he doesn’t want to miss out. And he wants to take how he plays now to the next level, wherever that next level is.
“Francis plays every day like it’s his last game,” Maytorena said. “He’s humble. Whether he’s making a conscious effort or not, he blocks out how good he is.”
You’ll have to ask him — because he won’t offer it — that the first college to contact him was the University of Arizona during his freshman year.
Christy will do that with some understated speech, almost like a castoff phrase, but he’ll act like a big kid and break into a big grin when he recalls what happened when he was 5 years old.
“I was hitting off a tee in my front yard,” Christy said, “and the bat flew out of my hands and landed on a neighbor’s lawn across the street.”
Christy amused himself with that little anecdote and the big kid with the big talent once again let baseball take him to that place soft and warm.
“It’s an escape,” said Christy about what he loves about the sport. “It’s just a release from life. When I’m out there (on the field) I don’t think about anything. I don’t think about homework, friends, parents, nothing.”
He’s just playing ball. See the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball. He got his first taste of money when this Oregon offer popped up. It wasn’t a big temptation but the day may come, sooner than wanted maybe, in which Christy will face a tougher decision than passing on $8,750.
When that day comes, the university or MLB team that gets Francis Christy should know one thing about this kid-man, one thing they should never try to extinguish. It is at the very core of him.
“When I was a kid,” he said, “I was always imagining I’d be hitting that walk-off home run.”
It’s that kid Francis Christy is and it’s that kid Francis Christy wants to be, for as long as he can, for as long as reality will let him.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.