It is not often that I offer college football tips in this space, but today is an exception.
That's because D. J. Ponder, who tried his hand at professional baseball for a time this summer before being released, is not only back in football as a fifth-year senior at Tulane but also will get his first collegiate start Saturday when the winless Green Wave host the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Ponder missed spring football because he was the closer for Tulane's baseball team (2-1, 12 saves, 1.10 ERA, second team all-Conference USA) and much of the fall training camp after joining the Frontier League's Evansville (IN) Otters in mid-season. "You could tell he was an incredible athlete," Otters media relations director and radio broadcaster Mike Radomski said Friday, but the debut as a professional did not pan out as Ponder gave up nine runs in as many innings spread over seven appearances. He did get a victory in his only decision.
"(Ponder is) experienced," Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson said in a school media release. "He knows what to do. He's a good player. He's not a young guy so you like the experience factor. I don't think anything is too big for D. J. D.J.'s been in baseball. Just being out there, I don't think it's too big for him."
The Green Wave have had two previous starting quarterbacks go down with injuries. Ponder has appeared in 21 games in his career, including seven last season, and has completed 26 of 62 passes for 266 yards.
ONETIME GRAND PRAIRIE HURLER TO ARIZONA FALL LEAGUE
Longtime Independent Baseball player David Espinosa (Lincoln, NE, American Association, plus York, PA and Southern Maryland of the Atlantic League in 2012) pointed out we missed one former Indy star in our original list of players headed to the Arizona Fall League.
Right-handed pitcher Chris Martin and Espinosa were teammates at Grand Prairie, TX in the American Association two years ago. Martin was signed by Boston at the end of that season, and the Red Sox obvious like the 26-year-old since he will represent them in the prestigious league that starts next month. Martin was 3-6, 4.48 in 23 games, including 12 starts, at Double-A Portland, ME this season.
The switch-hitting Espinosa, a 12-year veteran, is with York in the Atlantic League playoffs.
The AFL players with Indy experience we named earlier are lefty James Paxton (Seattle), who also pitched at Grand Prairie, southpaw Caleb Thielbar (Minnesota), who was at St. Paul, MN in the same league, and right-hander Kevin Johnson (Los Angeles Angels), still another American Association product when Pensacola, FL was in the league.
Paxton starred in the recent Southern League playoffs, winning Game 1 in both series for Jackson, TN and totaling 19 strikeouts. The highly-regarded prospect called the latter outing against eventual champion Mobile, AL "the biggest start of my professional career, for sure".
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