Cubs hope 'Rodan' terrorizes N.L. Central

Updated: March 1, 2004, 10:46 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider
MESA, Ariz. -- It's not always a blessing being a God-gifted "multi-sport" athlete. Just ask Danny Ainge or Drew Henson. Sometimes you have to fail at one sport to determine your true calling. Even John Elway had to figure out he couldn't hit a curveball before spending 16 years with his hands beneath a center's rump.

Derrek Lee settled on his calling early. In 1993, he showed enough promise as a shooting guard to earn a basketball scholarship to North Carolina out of El Camino High in Sacramento, Calif. Lee signed a letter of intent and received a handwritten note from Dean Smith, who congratulated him and told him he'd have to redshirt as a freshman.

It was a Tar Heel Blue-tinged piece of correspondence ready-made for a scrapbook. Problem is, Lee tossed the letter when he decided to play baseball.

"I can't believe I didn't save it," Lee said from his locker stall in the Chicago Cubs' clubhouse. "Stupid. I didn't save any of my letters. I didn't know what I was doing."

At least he made the right career call. When the San Diego Padres chose Lee with the 14th pick in the first round of the '93 draft, he was regarded as a rangy, athletic kid who might mature into a consistent power hitter with time.

That time has arrived. At 28, Lee has a World Series ring and a Gold Glove. He's hit 20 homers three times and 30 homers once, and stole a total of 40 bases over the past two years. In exchange for what he might do through 2006, the Cubs signed him to a three-year, $22.5 million contract over the weekend.

Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Senior Writer