Six-year-old Patrick Mahomes was at practice early on in his debut T-ball season when his coach tapped a lazy grounder into the hole at short.
“Patrick always loved shortstops,” Pat Mahomes Sr. said. “He fielded the ball and threw it across to first base, and I guess the first baseman misjudged the speed of the ball.”
“The ball hit the kid dead square between the eyes and broke his glasses,” Pat Sr. said. “That’s when I first said, ‘Well, Patrick’s a little different than most of the other kids his age.’ ”
Yessir, he was. And, 18 years later, he still is.
At 24 years and 138 days on Sunday, Patrick will become the fifth-youngest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history when his Chiefs play the 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium in the big game’s 54th edition.
“I just landed in Miami and it’s surreal,” said Pat Sr., who played 11 Major League Baseball seasons as a pitcher for the Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, Mets, Cubs and Pirates.
And yet all of this is not all that surprising. Born in Tyler, Texas, on Sept. 17, 1995 — during Pat’s fourth season with the Twins — Patrick had the MLB gene, mom Randi’s not-too-shabby athleticism and an early clubhouse education from the likes of Mike Hampton, Alex Rodriguez, dear old dad, 21-year big-leaguer LaTroy Hawkins and his godfather, Scott Erickson.
“When I was with the Mets [1999-2000], I remember going up to [General Manager] Steve Phillips and asking him if I could take Patrick out on the field,” Pat said. “He said, ‘Yeah, but you got to watch him.’ But I’d have to go in and take batting practice.
“So I’d leave Patrick out there and Steve was like, ‘Man, you can’t do that. You got to be careful.’ I said, ‘If he gets hit, he won’t do it again. He’ll figure it out.’ ”
Phillips turned around and little 5-year-old Patrick was catching baseballs off the bats of major leaguers.
“That’s when I really first starting remembering being around the guys my dad played with,” Patrick said. “Mike Hampton and all those guys. Going out and shagging fly balls and stuff.”
Which is his best sport?
Patrick became a three-sport star in basketball, baseball and football in Whitehouse, Texas. He pitched and played outfield. He posted up or shot the three. And his senior year in football, he threw 50 touchdown passes and ran for 15 more.
“I assumed he was going to be a baseball player,” Pat said. “If I was ranking his sports at that time, I would have thought football would have been his third-best sport.”
Chiefs fans can thank Randi as they celebrate their team’s first Super Bowl in a half-century. After all, it was Randi who talked Patrick out of quitting football his junior year. By that time, Randi and Pat had been divorced since 2006.
“The best advice my dad and mom always gave me was be the best you that you can be,” Patrick said. “And that was in everything, whether it was sports or going to class. Just be the best person you can be in whatever you do.”
Dad stoked the competitive side in Patrick. When told that dad’s fastball topped out at 93 miles per hour in high school, the son started throwing it 96 mph as a senior.
“But I was 17 when I was a senior,” Pat said. “Patrick was 18, almost 19 when he graduated. I was throwing 100 mph when I was that age. But that’s Patrick. If I went out and threw his football 80 yards, he’d throw it 85.”
Patrick was drafted by the Tigers in the 37th round. Pat says Patrick would have gone much higher had he not told scouts that he was committing himself to football early on at Texas Tech.
After the 2016 season, Patrick was deciding whether to leave school early for the draft. He had a conversation with Hawkins.
“LaTroy just asked him one question,” Pat said. “He said, ‘Are you ready to lead grown men?’ Patrick said, ‘What does that mean?’ And LaTroy said, ‘Well, if so and so comes in the huddle and says, ‘You got to get me the ball!’, what are you going to say?
“And Patrick said, ‘Well, get open and you’ll get the ball.’ Once he gave that answer, I knew he was ready. I wasn’t worried about the footwork or any of that other stuff people were talking about.”
Mechanics and memory
Ah, yes. The footwork.
Once upon a time, not long ago, Patrick was a mechanics nightmare. Or so people thought. He was a so-called “system quarterback.” Or so people thought.
The Chiefs weren’t those people. They looked at Patrick’s unconventional feet and rocket arm and saw a kid capable of doing things people haven’t seen before in a league that’s been around for a century.
But before they knew it would be OK to trade up 17 spots to draft him 10th overall in 2017, the Chiefs needed a peek inside the kid’s mind.
During Patrick’s visit with the Chiefs, coach Andy Reid showed him an install of plays on the white board in his office. He erased the board, took Patrick to the field, simulated a short practice, took him back to the white board and made him recreate the install Reid had shown him.
“The guy didn’t forget anything,” said Eric Bieniemy, now the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator.
Pat said Patrick always was a straight-A student.
“I have a photographic memory, and I’ve always known that once Patrick saw something, he didn’t forget it,” Pat said. “He was like 14 or 15 when he was tested. They said he has eidetic memory, which is similar, I guess. He sees something and he doesn’t forget.”
He also passed Reid’s test for patience and humility when he sat behind Alex Smith for a year before exploding onto the scene as a 23-year-old league MVP last season.
“Patrick doesn’t have the money to pay Alex enough for what he did for him that first year,” Reid said. “But Patrick also handled it the right way.”
Two years later and, well, here we are. If the Chiefs win, Patrick would be the second-youngest winning quarterback, moving ahead of Tom Brady, who was 46 days older when he won his first ring, and trailing only Ben Roethlisberger, who was 23 when he won Super Bowl XL.
“I think I ended up in the perfect place,” Patrick said. “The team was already a winning team. I was able to come in and just be who I am.”
And who is that? Let dad explain.
“The most memorable memory of Patrick for me was when I was coaching him in the Junior Little League World Series,” Pat said. “We went to Taylor, Mich., and we’re playing Chinese Taipei for the whole thing.
“Patrick came up in the fifth inning with the game on the line and got a base hit for us to go ahead. Unfortunately, we lost the game in the last inning. But that hit showed me he has what you call the clutch gene. Right there, I knew that he was going to do some good things wherever he went.”