Commentary

Tate makes it work as two-sport star

Notre Dame sophomore juggles success on gridiron and diamond

Originally Published: May 11, 2009
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In the age of 12-month dedication to a single sport, it's not just the fact that Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate also is playing baseball that sets him apart. It's that he is as successful on one field as he is on the other. No matter what kind of helmet and uniform Tate wears for the Irish, he serves as an offensive catalyst who rivets the attention of the opposing defense.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Notre Dame Sports Information Notre Dame's Golden Tate excels in both football and baseball for the Fighting Irish.
The same guy who last fall racked up 1,754 all-purpose yards, the third-highest total in Notre Dame history, is batting .339 as an outfielder for the Irish baseball team this spring.

The same guy who caught six passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns in the Hawaii Bowl also lined a home run over the left-field wall in the ninth inning to beat Louisville 13-12 on April 26.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Tate, who is from Hendersonville, Tenn., ranks in the top three in sundry offensive categories for the Irish, including total bases (75), extra-base hits (eight doubles, two triples, one homer) and slugging percentage (.424). He has followed the same path to success in both sports. He got a taste as a freshman and broke through as a sophomore.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Tate said. "I'm not thinking as much, if I'm doing this right, or if I'm doing this wrong, or if I don't do this right, I'm going to lose my spot, or if I don't do this right, I won't play. … My first year, juggling both was very difficult, mentally and physically. Once spring ball started up, and I wasn't playing very much, I had to try to establish myself and work myself into the rotation for the following season, and at the same time, be at the baseball games. It was really frustrating. You've got to fit school work in there at some point. After a game, we get done at 9, 9:15 at night. I had to come home and get some [study] hours in, do what I can.

"It's getting easier now because I'm kind of getting the hang of things, understanding the rotation of things. It's really good because it teaches me how to manage everything. Nothing just pops up on me. My day's planned now the night before."

There's no better example of Tate's ability to multitask than April 18. He played one half of the Blue-Gold Game (one catch, one rush, one punt return), then swapped out uniforms and went 4-for-9 in a doubleheader sweep of West Virginia. Notre Dame video-blogged Tate's day to capture him in all of his athletically schizophrenic glory.

Asking him which one he likes more is like asking a 10-year-old whether he likes ice cream or candy more. "Right now, I'm loving baseball, because it's baseball season," he said.

But Tate has given deeper thought to the differences between football and baseball.

"Football is just so much more demanding," Tate said. "Every minute of practice, you're doing something. Baseball practice, you might hang out in the outfield, catch fly balls, do a couple of drills. Football, you're always running. You always need that endurance. You always need that stamina."

You don't often hear the term "hanging out" applied to football practice.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Marco GarciaTate had three touchdowns in Notre Dame's win over Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl.
"Baseball is kind of like a break," Tate continued, and you could hear seamhead spines stiffen across the country.

But Tate knows all too well that there will be days like Sunday, when Notre Dame played the third of four games in four days. He went 0-for-4, made the final out in three different innings, and also dropped a fly ball that led to an eighth-inning run in the Irish's 6-5 loss to South Florida.

"It's a little easier physically," Tate said of baseball. "But mentally, it's really tough. You're playing about 60 games a year. You're playing every day. … You really need to be mentally focused when you're batting. Fundamentals play a really big part at the plate. If you do one thing wrong, you might miss the ball, you might even hit a soft little liner.

"Football, you can be an athlete. Maybe the quarterback leads you too much, you got to make an athletic play. Baseball, you've got to stay within yourself. Remember your fundamentals. Remember what you were taught when you were younger."

So Tate can settle one of the eternal barroom debates of American sports: What's tougher? Hitting a curveball? Or making a catch over the middle? He thought for several seconds before he answered.

"Right now, I'd probably say hitting the curveball is a little tougher," Tate said. "Luckily I haven't gone through the middle and gotten just murdered. I've survived each of my encounters up the middle. I've never run into a big linebacker just blowing my head off. I think I'm lucky. I guess I can just feel it when someone's there."

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com