On Monday, the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators — a Class A affiliate of the White Sox — defeated the Savannah Sand Gnats, 6–3. Picking up the win for the Intimidators was reliever Mitch Mustain.
Yup. That Mitch Mustain.
Following a football career that took him to Arkansas, USC, the CFL and the AFL, Mustain is giving baseball a try. Even though he hasn’t played since his sophomore year at Springdale (Ark.) High in 2004.
“Our organization is happy to have him,” says Josh Feldman, the Intimidators’ Director of Media Relations, when asked about Mustain. “Everything I know about him is that he’s an athlete. And we’re excited for the attention he’ll bring.”
Starting QB for the West team in the 2006 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The PARADE, Gatorade and USA Today National Player of the Year. 47 touchdown passes as a senior. Widely considered a better prospect than Tim Tebow.
Mustain went 8–0 as a true freshman starter in ’06 but he completed just 52% of his passes and had nine interceptions to 10 touchdown passes. And in the Nov. 4 contest against South Carolina, he was relieved by Casey Dick after one series. It was the last time he would start at Arkansas.
Mustain transferred to Southern Cal, but the opportunities he had hoped for with the Trojans quickly dried up.
He split backup duties with Aaron Corp as Mark Sanchez enjoyed a prolific 2008. Mustain remained on the sidelines for most of 2009 and 2010 as another highly-touted QB prospect, Matt Barkley, put a stranglehold on the position.
Meanwhile two people Mustain had known since Springdale, Gus Malzahn and Damian Williams, surpassed the player that had put them on the map to begin with.
Malzahn, who coached Mustain at Springdale and Arkansas, became the hottest coordinator in college football. Williams played with Mustain at Springdale, Arkansas and USC and became an all-Pac-10 wideout.
First and worst was his Feb. 2011 arrest on suspicion of selling prescription narcotics. He was prescribed Vyvanese to combat ADHD while at USC. Mustain stopped using it after a strong start in Nov. 2010 against Notre Dame, and he thought he could earn money selling it illegally.
“I decided I could make a decent chunk of change selling it, and I was caught,” he said in an interview with USA Today last December.
Following short-lived stops in the CFL and AFL, Mustain applied to join the Marines. Then a bizarre-looking trailer for a documentary, “The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain,” made the Internet rounds in January about a film that was supposed to come out in the spring.
When Mustain, now 24, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox in February, people again rolled their eyes at what appeared to be a desperate attempt to cling to sports. For Mustain, it was a chance to perform without the massive weight of expectations. And for not having played baseball in eight years, Mustain has pitched admirably: a 4.50 ERA in 14 innings of Rookie Ball and a two-inning, one-run debut with Kannapolis on Monday.
Yes, the tiny town outside Charlotte is definitely the last place anyone expected Mustain to be at this point in this career. Ranked the second-best quarterback in the Class of 2006 behind only Matthew Stafford, Mustain should be getting ready to open NFL training camp this week as a rising star quarterback in the league like Stafford if everything had gone according to plan.
But if Mustain is able to make his way through the White Sox organization and forge a decent baseball career, he would be exceeding expectations.
It would be a welcome change for an athlete who set the bar so high for himself early on that it seems he’s done nothing but fall short of them.