HOUSTON — After dropping Game 1 in Houston, the Utah Jazz used the two-day break to study film and practice for the remainder of the Western Conference semifinals series.
Some guys spent time with family while others explored the city in their down time.
One of those activities included an impromptu trip to Minute Maid Park to check out the Houston Astros against the New York Yankees on Monday, April 30.
Houston won 2-1 as Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell enjoyed the action with teammates Royce O’Neale, Ricky Rubio, David Stockton and Dante Exum from the stands.
For them, the experience was entertaining, but for Mitchell there was a deeper connection to the guys on the diamond.
“It was pretty cool to go in there and see those guys,” Mitchell said. “I know a few guys on the Yankees so it’s pretty cool to just be a part of that and kind of watch the game as a fan.
“I hadn’t really been able to watch any games as a fan in a long time so just being able to go there and I’ve always wanted to be able to see the park.”
Mitchell, a lifelong baseball fan, has been connected to the game for as long as he can remember. On Monday, he even shared a rare photo of himself as a kid with a Mets T-shirt via Twitter.
“I just love watching it and I understand the game so it’s pretty easy for me to understand it but just watching guys I’ve grew up watching just do well has been pretty cool,” Mitchell said.
His father, Donovan Sr., is the current director of player relations and community affairs for the New York Mets. Ironically, Donovan Sr. also spent seven years from 1992-98 in the minor leagues for the Houston Astros organization. Houston drafted Donovan Sr. in the 14th round of the 1992 MLB June amateur draft from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“He’d go to all the Mets games, come down and spend time with me during spring training and when I was managing, he would get on the bus with me and ride to different games,” Donovan Sr. told the Deseret News. “All the players that he was around when he was younger, they’re all rooting for him. They’re all hitting me up on Facebook and everything else asking me ‘is that the same Donovan that was in the locker room with us?’”
Parker Holbrook was one of Mitchell’s baseball teammates as an eighth grader at Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich, Connecticut, and says, “he threw two or three no hitters” that season.
Mitchell, 21, remains a loyal Mets fan to this day even with his basketball career taking off so swiftly. In fact, an injury on the baseball field is what led him to pursue hoops so passionately.
During his sophomore year at Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, Mitchell got hurt in a freak accident and never played again despite being lightly recruited to play on the next level.
Donovan Mitchell pitches during a baseball game at Greenwich Country Day School as an eighth grader in Greenwich, Connecticut. | Parker Holbrook
“I ran into my catcher trying to catch a pop fly,” Mitchell recalled. “We ran into each other when I was playing shortstop and he actually ended up breaking his jaw and I broke my wrist so the both of us were just there in pain but it was a pretty surreal experience when I had to go through that.”
After that, he solely dedicated himself to basketball, transferring to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for his final two prep years. He would then make a name for himself at Louisville for two seasons under coach Rick Pitino before taking the NBA by storm as a rookie for the Jazz.
And as a nod to his baseball days, Mitchell wears No. 45 in honor of Michael Jordan’s baseball career. Looking back isn’t in his plans, though.
“I try not to because if you look back at things and be like ‘man, this is what could’ve been’ but I can’t believe what’s going on is happening right now so I’m just living in a whole different world right now but I had my time in baseball and it was pretty cool,” Mitchell said. “I was being recruited but I think I made the right choice.”