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MIAMI — Twenty years ago, Josh Booty stepped onto the field at Pro Player Stadium fearing he’d trip over the first-base line as he was introduced in the Opening Day starting lineup for the defending World Series champion Florida Marlins.
“I was nervous about every little thing,” said Booty, a former Evangel standout. “I’m out here in this big moment. You get your name called and you’re running out to the starting lineup on opening day — they don’t do that every day, just Opening Day. That was a fun deal. Then they gave the ring for the World Series, so that was a big deal. So, opening day was a little more special.”
An injury to Bobby Bonilla paved the way for Booty, at the age of 22, to start at third base on March 31, 1998, against the Chicago Cubs.
The same two teams (the Marlins are now the Miami Marlins) open the 2018 season Thursday at Marlins Park, located on the former site of the Orange Bowl, about 14 miles south of where Booty made that Opening Day start and received his 1997 World Series ring.
“Man, I can’t even remember it, to be honest,” Booty said. “It seems like I’ve lived 10 lives since then. I just never really think about it.”
The immense talent and desire to win that made Booty a two-sport star also led to his downfall. He never was comfortable with the idea of picking either baseball or football, so he went with both.
The Marlins selected Booty fifth overall in 1994. He opted to forego the opportunity to play quarterback at LSU in search of the bigs.
But Booty couldn’t forget about chucking the pigskin. Ultimately, he deserted the diamond for a late start at LSU to team up with his brother, Abram.
“I dreamed about being the first person ever to play quarterback (in the NFL) and (big league) baseball at the same time,” Booty said. “That was my mentality — I have to go catch up on the football side. I was an idiot. You can’t do it. It’s impossible.”
Naturally, Deion Sanders, one of the few to successfully marry NFL and Major League Baseball careers, was Booty’s “favorite athlete of all-time.”
The Baton Rouge thing didn’t work out either.
“LSU wasn’t the best place for me,” he said.
Now, Booty lives in Newport Beach, California, but satisfies his competitive urge with action on the golf course, a healthy travel schedule — to some of the sweetest spots on the planet — and a couple of handfuls of business ventures.
“Nothing can replace (playing) sports,” Booty, a 3 handicap, said prior to a golf game in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.
During a 20-minute phone conversation Tuesday, Booty was still unable to decide his No. 1 love. And that sparked his memory of those chaotic times 10 lifetimes ago.
While at Evangel, Booty threw for 11,700 yards and 126 touchdowns. He was named the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year and the National High School Player of the Year by several outlets.
As a senior, Booty, not Peyton Manning, was rated by many recruiting services as the nation’s best quarterback prospect.
A four-time All-State choice at shortstop, he batted .429, stole 25 bases, and clubbed 12 home runs in 70 at-bats as an Evangel senior. He also captured a silver medal as the starting shortstop for the U.S. Junior Olympic National Team.
“The ceiling for him is very high,” former major league general manager Jim Hendry said in 1994. “This guy has the tools to be a star some day, not just an everyday guy.”
Booty eventually signed for a then-record $1.6 million bonus.
“I didn’t really know what to do with the money,” Booty said. “I tithed 10 percent to First Assembly and Evangel, helped my parents with a down payment for a home, bought Abram a car and me a car, and a couple of cell phones.”
Josh Booty earned a World Series ring with the Florida Marlins in 1997.
Josh Booty earned a World Series ring with the Florida Marlins in 1997. (Photo: File/Gannett)
In five minor-league seasons, Booty smashed 62 home runs, but struck out 621 times in 1,745 at-bats. The Marlins promoted Booty to the big club in three consecutive seasons, including Florida’s championship season in 1997.
He caught a break in spring of 1998 when Bonilla came up lame.
“I’d never be embarrassed to put Josh Booty out there,” then-Marlins skipper Jim Leyland told the media in spring training. “He’ll strike out some but he’ll play the hell out of third base.”
Said Booty: “I just like the fact that he believed in me — he put me out there at such a young age.”
Booty went 0-for-4 with an RBI-groundout on Opening Day against the Cubs.
While Booty enjoyed the life that Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale offered, he played just seven games that season. Booty totaled just 26 at-bats (seven hits, four RBIs) in three major-league stints.
His big shot was cut short when a slide from Milwaukee’s Jeromy Burnitz injured the thumb on his glove hand.
“(Gary) Sheffield threw a ball in, and Burnitz was going first to third. The throw was offline. I caught the ball, dove to the base and dislocated my thumb and was out for three months.”
The injury only heightened his desire to throw touchdowns.
“All the guys I came up with had big careers in the major leagues,” Booty said. “Kevin Millar was my roommate and best friend. (Mark) Kotsay, (Scott) Podsednik, (Edgar) Renteria — we all came up together. They knew I wasn’t super happy. It affected me.”
Brother Abram flourished with the Tigers, and that was enough to make the difference. Booty thought he’d play with his brother, and make strides toward his dream of making history.
“I wanted to play football so bad I couldn’t stand it,” he said. “It was a tough time.”
In 1999, at the age of 24, Booty turned in the teal for purple and gold. Today, he says that was a mistake.
“It wasn’t the best place to go,” Booty said. “The coaching situation with (Gerry) DiNardo — it was a bad staff. I wish I could have started when (Nick) Saban got there.”
Booty began his sophomore season — Saban’s first year with the Tigers — but was eventually usurped by Rohan Davey.
In 2001, the Seattle Seahawks took a shot on Booty with the 177th pick (sixth round). He also spent three years with Cleveland (2001-03), but never saw game action.
Those tools, that mindset, they proved to be a curse.
“If I had to go back, I’d find the best place to play college football, and then push for the NFL,” Booty said. “LSU wasn’t the best place.”
Among other things, Booty helps broker deals and raise money for start-up companies. He’s also been involved in businesses with every one of his brothers (John David, Jake), including a credit card processing company with Abram.
He’s dabbled in gaming — helped create Dolly Parton slot machines — and enjoyed watching his siblings’ success in their athletic endeavors.
“JD at USC was great — I enjoyed that as much as playing,” Josh said.
If Booty had another shot at investing his money?
“I’d invest in real estate in California,” Booty said. “It’s worth more than 10 times what it was in 1994.”
By coincidence, Booty reconnected with Moises Alou, a former Marlins teammate and member of the world championship team.
“I’m going to see him in Santo Domingo,” said Booty, who also recently spent time in Colombia with Jake.
“I love travel, seeing new things,” Josh said. “I play golf — love to gamble on the golf course. But nothing can replace sports — that’s why a lot of these guys get depressed because they don’t know what to do with themselves.
“Sports is such a high — whether it goes good or bad, it’s extreme stuff.”
Booty has so many irons in the fire these days, he still doesn’t have to choose a favorite. As history shows, that’s probably a good thing.