By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Dan Jennings, vice president of player personnel for the Florida Marlins, recalls a sparsely attended high school baseball game in the tiny town of Mount Olive, Miss., in 1991.
Jennings, then an area scout for the Mariners, happened across the game against Mendenhall.
“I pulled in, looked around, no scouts there,” Jennings told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“Running out to shortstop for Mount Olive was this Adonis. Cut up, athletic. Oh, my God. I saw him throw. He had a great arm. Not much in fielding. He kind of went down on one knee like he was genuflecting at Mass.”
At Jennings’ urging, Seattle drafted McNair in the 35th round. The team offered him about $15,000 to sign, but he had already decided to emulate his brother, Fred, and play quarterback at Alcorn State.
“I went to his home in Mount Olive, real small, like a three- or four-room house,” Jennings related. “His grandmother and I, we sat on the couch after we talked and made the offer, and we were playing ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ trying to solve the puzzle, while the mother and brother were in the back bedroom and talked about our offer.
“Steve came out and said, ‘You know what, Mr. Jennings? I’d love to give this a try, but I idolize my brother. I look up to him and I want to follow in his footsteps at Alcorn State. I don’t know if it’s a mistake, but my heart is in football.’ I left the house. We tried the rest of the summer, but he was set on going to play.”
Four years later, Jennings went to a Senior Bowl workout to see McNair.
“He comes up to me, gives me a big hug,” Jennings said.
“I told him, ‘Son, I don’t know that you would not have been a major league player because you certainly had great talent, but looking at where you are right now I think you made the right career decision.’ He was a special athlete. It was a scout’s dream. Little did I know this guy was going to be Air McNair.”