CRAIG KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii wide receiver Ian Sample spent many a childhood day at Major League ballparks watching his father, Billy Sample, and playing with children of other baseball players.
Beating his own path
Ian Sample didn't follow his
famous father into baseball, choosing
instead to become a Warrior
Ian Sample isn't sure if the memories come from actual experience or from stories he's been told. The events took place too long ago for him to be certain.
But among the hazy images of his early childhood are days spent in stadiums and clubhouses of Major League Baseball teams, when his playmates were predominantly other kids tagging along with their ball-playing dads, Among them a teenaged Ken Griffey Jr.
"I remember playing with him; that was pretty cool looking back on it," Sample said. "I didn't think anything of it then, but now he's one of the greatest baseball players."
Unlike Griffey Jr., Sample didn't follow his father -- former major leaguer Billy Sample -- into a baseball career. The leisurely pace of the game just didn't appeal to him. So instead of catching pop-ups, he's snagging passes for the Hawaii football team.
"I've always loved football," Sample said. "I stopped playing baseball when I was little because it was too slow and too boring for me. (Billy) didn't mind. My sport was more action."
Billy Sample played nine seasons in the big leagues as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Texas Rangers and made his major league debut in 1978. A career .272 hitter, he was traded to the New York Yankees in 1985 and ended his career the following year as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
Ian was just a 3-year-old toddler when his father left the game as a player, but the memories linger.
"I do remember being in the wives' lounge and the stadiums," Sample said. "I remember meeting Rickey Henderson and those kinds of people. When I was little it didn't really mean much to me, but as I get older it kind of sinks in more and it's pretty amazing."
Sample said his father never pressured him to become a baseball player. Billy was a standout high-school football player in his youth, but at 5-foot-9 he felt his future was in baseball.
At 5-10 and 186 pounds, Ian is a just a tad bigger than his father and could figure into the rotation at wide receiver for the Warriors this season.
"He'll play this year," UH head coach June Jones said. "He's quick, he can make plays, he can run and he's learned the offense pretty well."
Sample, an all-state receiver in New Jersey in high school, played one season at Delaware before transferring to Bergen College in his home state. He eventually moved west to contemplate the next step in his journey.
"I moved with my best friend to California, just to live and figure out what I was going to do," he said. "I knew I wanted to play football again; I just didn't know where. I've always thought about Hawaii -- it has nice weather and it's a great receiver school. You can't ask for a better one."
Sample contacted the UH coaching staff and joined the Warrior program last fall. He had to sit out the season as a transfer and played on the scout team.
The junior saw action with the first unit early in fall camp while sophomore Jason Rivers got his academic house in order. Although Rivers has since reclaimed a place with the first team, Sample should see his share of playing time this season.
If Sample needs a touch of home, his father's voice is just a couple of mouse clicks away. Billy hosts an Internet morning show with Jim Leyritz on mlb.com.
"This summer I went in with him to see where he worked and it was an awesome environment," Sample said. "Everyone knows baseball out of their heads."
As he tries to make a name for himself with the Warrior football team, Sample doesn't mind being recognized for his major league lineage.
"When I go to games my dad still get autographs and it's like, 'Wow, people still know who he is,'" Sample said. "It's kind of like that here. People will sometimes recognize my name and I'm not anything special at all. That's kinda cool."