Clifford Set To Play In Bellingham -- UW Football Star Tries Pro Baseball


James Clifford looks as though he could drop a running back in his tracks on a moment's notice. But for now, the only hitting he will do will be with a wooden baseball bat.

Clifford is a 6-foot-2, 225-bound linebacker for the University of Washington's national-championship football team. While he is preparing for the Huskies' bid to defend their NCAA national championship, Clifford will play first base and left field for the Seattle Mariners' farm team in Bellingham.

"I had a lot of time to think after I injured my knee," Clifford said last night of an injury that forced him to sit out the entire 1990 football season. "I've always wanted to be a professional athlete and I had to re-examine my options. I decided `Why not play baseball again.' I looked at the injury as a second chance.

"I'm 22, and that's already a little old to be starting out. Starting out at 23 is even harder."

Originally drafted by the Mariners out of Ingraham High School in 1988, Clifford told Seattle he would sign a contract if the team met his terms. By the time the Mariners agreed, it was two weeks away from the start of fall workouts at Washington and Clifford was in a football frame of mind.

Clifford batted .304 and led Washington in home runs with 10 this season as the Huskies qualified for the NCAA tournament. He had 40 runs batted in, 10 doubles, two triples, and also set a school record with 43 strikeouts.

This time, Clifford was ready to sign when the Mariners drafted him a second time.

"They're letting me continue to play football this fall, and that's important," Clifford said. "But I'm also here to learn, and I have a lot to learn.

"Up here, I'm able to really focus on getting ready to play football and on playing baseball. I work on the weights in the morning, eat my meal and play ball at night. There aren't a lot of distractions."

Clifford did not play in last night's opener, a 10-4 victory over the Everett Giants. He is scheduled to divide time at first base with Fred McNair, a 1989 Mariner draftee who missed all of last season with an injured shoulder, and left fielder Craig Griffey.