SAN DIEGO — Sophomore Jim Plum, backup quarterback on the San Diego State football team and reserve third baseman on the Aztec baseball team, didn't even hesitate when asked which sport he prefers.
"Playing," Plum said.
On a recent afternoon, Plum sat in the SDSU football locker room, chewing a wad of tobacco and putting on his shoulder pads before spring football practice.
Since spring football practice began March 23, Plum has had to juggle his time between the football gridiron and the baseball diamond. Sometimes, he mixes the sports, no matter where he is. For example, to keep his football arm in shape, Plum throws spirals along the third-base line before baseball games begin.
"I thought it would be tougher to play both sports," Plum said, "but Coach Jim Dietz is willing to do everything to make it easier because he know I'm on a football scholarship."
Plum came to SDSU as an All-American quarterback from Helix High School. But his football career has gone downhill ever since.
In 1984, Plum started only one game and then played behind redshirt freshman Todd Santos most of the season. This spring, Coach Doug Scovil has said he plans to go with Santos as his quarterback next season.
"Jim contributes a lot by just being on the team," said Scovil, "and having him on the team is great . . . But I have to feel that Todd will be an even better quarterback after gaining experience last season, and we're going with him right now."
No wonder Plum only wanted to talk briefly about his football career at SDSU. At the moment, there isn't much to talk about.
But baseball? That's becoming a different story. He has played in 31 of the baseball team's 45 games this season, although the past 10 days he has been limited to football practice. A rash of injuries has given Plum a lot more playing time than Dietz anticipated.
Plum is hitting .226 (12 for 53) and a gold glove is not immediately forthcoming, but he has two game-winning hits and has gained the respect of Dietz.
"He was even greener than most freshmen, because he hadn't played in so long," Dietz said. "He had to undergo a four-week crash course before the season started, and he still has a lot of catching up to do.
"But he has great enthusiasm, and if he plays during the summer, next year he'll be twice as good as he is now. He has a strong arm, has no fear and he plays aggressively. I really could see somebody drafting him as a baseball player someday."
That would be a bonus for Plum. Right now, the thing that has made Plum a happier and more relaxed person is that he is playing a sport. He's actually a part of the real thing.
That's exactly what Plum hoped would happen when he decided to reevaluate his collegiate athletic career after the last football season.
"I had to look out for myself for once," Plum said. "Asking to also play baseball wasn't any sort of deviant behavior on my part. It's just that I've been a team player for three years (redshirted as a freshman), and I think I should be playing football. I love football when I'm playing it during the games, but it's no fun riding pine."
So, Plum, who hadn't played competitive baseball since he was an All-Grossmont league selection at Helix in 1982, decided to talk to Dietz.
As a quarterback who is not afraid to take on linebackers, Plum wasn't about to be intimidated by an Aztec baseball team that is perennially ranked in the Top 20 nationally.
"When he first came to talk to me," Dietz said, "I thought he'll try it for a couple of weeks, get frustrated and drop it."
Dietz remembered seeing Plum play at Helix, and those memories, coupled with Plum's layoff, didn't make Dietz think about rearranging his starting lineup.
"He played with a lot of enthusiasm in high school," Dietz said, "and he had a strong arm, but he was sort of clumsy . . .
"We weren't really looking at him. He signed an early letter of intent to play football, and when that happens, baseball coaches are no longer interested in an athlete. And we had a number of young third basemen at the time."
Once Plum decided to give baseball a go, he spoke with Scovil, who didn't try to deter him. However, he did stress the importance of Plum participating in spring football.
So Plum headed for the batting cage.
"It was tough getting back into it," he said. "Hitting is the toughest part by far. It's something you have to do everyday, and I still have a long ways to go."
"He doesn't know how to hit now," Dietz said. "He jumps at the ball too much, and he has to learn to sit back and relax.
"He also doesn't know how to run the bases yet. He misses a lot of signs, and it is frustrating to coach him at times because he does a lot of little things wrong."
Is that all?
"Sometimes he makes mistakes by being too intense," Dietz said.
Added Scovil: "Being hyper and trying too hard has always been a problem for Jim."
Scovil, Dietz and Plum agree that playing baseball could have a calming effect on the 21-year-old.
"In baseball," Dietz said, "a player can make a mistake and come back the next day and make up for it. Jim should learn a lot about himself though this process."
Not to mention through the process of playing.