LAKE FOREST – As a kid, Kyle Long dreamed of becoming a baseball player.
His father, Howie, had been a Hall of Fame defensive end with the Oakland Raiders. His older brother, Chris, was determined to follow suit as a football star.
Not Kyle, though. Kyle was going to be a baseball player.
His favorite team was the Boston Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2004 and won it again in 2007. His heroes included Jonathan Papelbon, the fiery closer, and Dustin Pedroia, the goofball second baseman with a short frame and big heart.
“And Big Papi,” Long said. “Obviously.”
Yes, and Big Papi. Obviously.
If things had turned out differently – which is to say, if Long had made better decisions as a college freshman – it’s possible that he could have played with or against David Ortiz and the rest of his Red Sox heroes. He could have climbed the pitcher’s mound, peered in for the catcher’s signal, and hummed a mid-90s fastball over the inside corner.
In fact, Long is sure of it.
“I think I’d be playing in the Major Leagues right now,” Long said. “But it just didn’t work out. So I’m in the other Major Leagues.”
That would be the NFL.
Long, 24, is here for a lot of reasons, most of which are positive. He is a tenacious, athletically gifted and hard-working offensive lineman whom the Bears selected with their first-round pick (No. 20 overall) despite his relative lack of football experience.
Since joining the Bears, all Long has done is seize the starting position at right guard. Head coach Marc Trestman has yet to formally announce Long as a starter heading into the regular season, but that moment is coming sooner rather than later.
In front of Long lies a promising NFL career. Behind him sits an abandoned baseball past and questions about what might have been.
Rewind to the summer of 2008. Before the late-night partying, before the failed classes, before the 2 a.m. traffic stop and the DWI charge.
Long was a rising star on the diamond, a 6-foot-6-inch southpaw with big league stuff. He committed to pitch for Florida State, one of the nation’s top baseball programs, after earning all-state honors in Virginia as a high school sophomore, junior and senior.
The White Sox selected Long out of high school anyway, using a 23rd round pick in 2008 with the hope that they might be able to lure him to turn pro. But Long honored his commitment to the Seminoles, where he could have blossomed into a terrific prospect.
Want a scouting report on Long the pitcher? Ask Long the offensive lineman.
“Somebody who doesn’t have a lot of control on the mound, but has good velocity on his fastball,” Long said. “Somebody who wants to challenge hitters with the heat. Also has a slider. Does not have a change-up.”
Well, technically, Long had a change-up.
“A really undeveloped change-up,” Long said.
These days, Long is developing a much different skill set as an offensive lineman with power and perspective. He dropped out of Florida State before appearing in a game, and the humbled son of a famous father reinvented himself as a football player at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., before transferring to Oregon.
None of Long’s baseball experiences could have prepared him for this.
“They’re two opposite games,” Long said. “I’ve had to forget a lot of the stuff that I learned in baseball in terms of applying it to football. You need to be so wired and aggressive in this game, and it’s the opposite in that game.”
At least a couple of Long’s teammates were surprised to hear about his baseball life.
“It would be tough to imagine him standing on a pitcher’s mound,” said Matt Slauson, the Bears’ starting left guard. “I mean, he’s a big dude. Usually, pitchers are kind of lanky, flexible type of guys, and he’s all muscle-bound. It would be weird.”
Fellow offensive lineman Eben Britton smiled at the idea of Long as a pitcher.
“Is that what position he played?” Britton said. “At, what is he, 6-5, 325 pounds?”
“Yeah, sure,” Britton said with a shrug. “Kyle’s a great athlete. I’m sure he could do it.”
Long did it.
Unless asked, he doesn’t talk about baseball much. He doesn’t watch it much, either.
“It’s hard for me to watch,” Long said. “Not because it’s not fun to watch. Just because I was so close. I was so invested into playing baseball, and then things didn’t work out.
“So I worry about what’s on my plate. That’s it.”
His plate is full. His football future is bright.
“I look back on it sometimes,” Long said. “But I’m in a pretty amazing spot right now.”
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.