Several months later, however, after Lemon's senior year of baseball at La Mirada, the St. Louis Cardinals came calling and brought their checkbook with them, offering Lemon a $650,000 signing bonus after picking him in the second round of the draft. Lemon, 17 at the time, jumped at the chance to play pro baseball.
Seven years later, Lemon is through with baseball and is looking for a college education and a chance to play college football. He plans to walk on and play for the Colorado Buffaloes this fall.
"I'm really excited," Lemon said about the opportunity to play for the Buffs. "I can't even tell you how excited I am."
He won't be the first player in recent years to graduate from La Mirada, then play minor league baseball before wearing the black and gold. Quarterback Mike Moschetti is a La Mirada alum, and played in the Oakland A's organization before opting to play football, first at Mt. SAC junior college, then at CU. And a connection with Moschetti is the reason Lemon is coming to Colorado.
After Lemon was released by the Cardinals' Johnson City (Tenn.) club following the 2004 season, he decided he wanted to go back to school and play football. He contacted La Mirada football coach John Mele, who put the word out to schools who had recruited Lemon back in 1997-98. At first, UCLA showed interest, but they eventually backed off.
That's when Mele called Moschetti to see if Mt. SAC, where Moschetti was recently hired as quarterbacks coach, was interested. After meeting with Lemon, Moschetti thought he didn't need to go the juco route and said Lemon should contact the Colorado staff. Lemon sent them a highlight reel from his high school days, and the Colorado coaches liked what they saw, Lemon said.
While Lemon, who is married and has a two-year-old daughter, at first thought he wanted to go to school in California, the opportunity in Boulder was too good to pass up.
"I said, ‘You know what? They have a great program. It's a great school with a great history," Lemon said. "You think I'm going to turn that down? It just kind of went from there."
Lemon had a clause in his original contract with the Cardinals that said they will pay for his college education should he decide to pursue one. Lemon must get through the academic application process, something he's working on this week.
Asked if he was confident the university would accept him, Lemon said: "I'm under the impression right now that things are going well. I'm pretty confident that it's going to work out. John Wristen told me everything appears to be good, and they cleared me and they're willing to accept me."
Lemon played wide receiver and defensive back in high school. He said he thinks he'll play receiver at Colorado, but he's not sure. The question remains: How effective can Lemon be on the football field after spending the past seven years on the baseball diamond?
Moschetti, the Buffs' starting quarterback in 1998 and '99, thinks Lemon can help the Buffs as early as this fall.
"He's as good an athlete as I've ever seen. He's really a stud," Moschetti said. "The big thing he's going to have to do is catch a lot of balls and get his legs in shape."
Lemon, who is currently 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, plans to catch passes from Moschetti in the coming weeks. Lemon said he'd probably play somewhere between 195 and 205 pounds.
"I don't see why he won't be ready (to contribute this fall)," Moschetti said. "It's not like we're curing cancer here, we're just playing football."
Lemon has hired a trainer and has been hitting the weightroom, running and working on agility drills.
"Baseball's a lot slower game, a lot more of a mental game," Lemon said. "The biggest thing will be getting the explosiveness back. The only time I had to be really explosive was stealing second base or getting a jump on the ball in the outfield."
He spent six seasons in the outfield, mostly with the Single A Peoria Cardinals. His best season was in 2002, when he hit .236 with 11 home runs and 78 RBIs. The year before, Lemon led Peoria with 15 homers. However, in 2000, Lemon — and his teammates — played in the shadow of a future star, Albert Pujols.
"He was a man among boys," Lemon said of his former teammate, Pujols, who was leading the Major League Cardinals in batting going into this past weekend (.335). "The guy was just born to hit."
After it appeared Lemon wasn't going to move up the ladder as an outfielder, the Cardinals gave him a shot at pitcher in 2004, even though he hadn't pitched since he was 12. He went back down to the rookie league with Johnson City. That experiment ended with a 1-4 record last season.
"It was fun," Lemon said. "I didn't pitch as well as I set out to, but it was a great experience."
He comes from an athletic family. His uncle, Chet "The Jet" Lemon, was a three-time All-Star who played outfield for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers during a 16-year career that ended in 1990.
Lemon's older brother, Jerry, played on the Fresno State Bulldogs football team that visited Folsom in 1998, and sacked Moschetti on the first play of that game.
Moschetti knows what it's like to go back to school and play football after riding minor league buses. It's also something Lemon, who will turn 25 in September, will share with Joel Klatt. The current starting Buffaloes quarterback played in the minors for three seasons before walking on at Colorado in 2002.
"Playing in the minor leagues makes you mentally tough," Moschetti said. "You wake up every day and compete against the best. You're getting your ass kicked every day by professional players, and you learn. "Baseball's such a mentally tough game. In baseball if you get three hits out of every 10 at bats, you're in the hall of fame. You fail more than you succeed."
Lemon said getting re-acclimated to the classroom will be his biggest challenge. He is interested in studying business, or perhaps music, at Colorado, though that could change, he said.
"I think the biggest adjustment will be weathering both of those — school and football," Lemon said. "I've been out of school a long time now."
While there are sure to be other big adjustments for Lemon, Moschetti sees success in his future.
"I think he can contribute right away," Moschetti said. "He's just everything you want in a football player. He's a leader. The first thing he said to me was, ‘I know it's kind of far-fetched, but I want to go up there and win a national championship.'"