Off the grid

Carlton Baker (left) and Quadtrine Hill, a former Miami football player, hone their new craft. Rennio Maifredi for ESPN The Magazine

This feature appears in the December 28, 2009 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

During my days as a student at UC-Berkeley, a particular form of rebound therapy took place outside the office of former baseball coach Bob Milano. On days when Milano called in players to tell them they'd been cut, the school's crew coach lingered in the hallway, ready to extend condolences to the tallest of those with newly broken dreams. But after a few formalities, he'd wind the conversation to its ­ultimate stealth destination. "So," the coach would ask, "ever thought about rowing?"

His tactic was a minor bit of genius. He knew he had no chance of getting these high-level athletes right out of high school; guys with designs on playing D1 baseball generally have no interest in crew. But on cut-down day, certain truths worked in the crew coach's favor. He knew young men with athletic ability and competitive fire could redirect those qualities to another endeavor. And he knew they had egos, which could be easily stoked by the timely presentation of a Plan B: Maybe the baseball coach can't use you, but I sure can.

The crew coach was appealing to the universal desire of athletes to keep playing. When one door closes -- literally, in the case of those Cal baseball players -- you want to be the guy holding the next one open.

What does that story have to do with boxing, the subject of this story? More than you'd think.