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From gridiron to diamond
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Jerry Owens hit his first professional home run on July 1 -- not a bad way to start the month.

He hit .370 for the month of June, and currently leads the Savannah Sand Gnats in batting average (.296) and stolen bases (21).

A Major League scout once clocked him from home plate to first base in 3.63 seconds (the record, set by Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, is 3.7). Another Major League scout told Owens that he was the fastest man in baseball. During the 2003 collegiate baseball season he was contacted by all but two Major League teams.

Before Jerry Owens began his baseball career he was a football star. Heavily recruited and already famous before finishing high school, Owens signed a full scholarship to UCLA. He wanted a free education, and the Bruins wanted the celebrated wide receiver who ran the forty-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. The California native had arrived.

But football was not in the stars for this gifted athlete. For the two years he wore a Bruins jersey he was plagued by injuries. Broken legs and ankles, hamstring injuries, severe bruises…both he and his coaches began to wonder if he would ever clock any time on the field.

Finally, on August 21, 2001, Owens realized he was on the wrong path and left behind his scholarship and his football career. On August 22 he showed up at tiny Master’s College to begin a baseball career.

These days Owens is happier and healthier, and his stats seem to indicate that changing sports was a good decision. The Sand Gnats certainly think so.

Owens says that he always felt like a baseball player who was playing football. Persistent recruiters offering him the chance to go to a better college than he could have afforded otherwise had turned his head. He often finds that, like his football injuries, bad circumstances are actually signs that a change is called for.

His own childhood is an example. Owens’ natural father disappeared when he was very young, leaving his mother to care for her two small children alone. Rather than feeling bitter or angry, Owens feels blessed. He says that this allowed him to get very close to his mother and eventually to his stepfather, Paul Sibek.

“If my real father had stayed, my mother wouldn’t have married my step-dad. He has been more than a father to me, and my real father wouldn’t have been good for us.”

That sort of courage and faith are what keeps him focused and strong. He got a late start in baseball, and at the tender age of 23, Owens is practically a senior citizen in the South Atlantic League. But every day he gets out there, slowly makes his way to the batters’ box, draws a cross in the dirt (Owens is a devout Christian), and gets another hit. He believes he is destined to play Major League Baseball, and very little gets him down.

Some things do surprise him, though, like how much faster the pitchers throw in pro ball than in college.

“A ball going 93 is a lot faster than one going 88 (miles per hour)!”

There are some things about Owens that are surprising, too. For example, his favorite leisure activity is playing video games. And even though he has had success in both football and baseball, he plans to coach high school basketball after he retires. He stresses, though, that this is only after a very long career in professional baseball.

The one thing he wants most out of life is a family of his own.

“I really want to have kids. I like the idea of meeting the woman of my dreams -- The One -- and settling down, supporting each other. That is what I really want in life.”

But Owens is in no hurry. With a brilliant future in the best job in the world, who would be?