Red Sox or Vols?

In order for Tennessee baseball to contend with some of the nation's elite in the Southeastern Conference, it will need an influx of talent. Read as its top signee in the Class of 2011 debates coming to Knoxville or signing with the Boston Red Sox.

People gush consistently the older they get about how great certain aspects of their lives were in their younger years.

"Oh, to be a kid again!"

Try being an 18-year-old baseball player with the option of playing collegiately at Tennessee and in the Southeastern Conference or to forgo your amateur status to sign a contract and play in the Boston Red Sox organization.

Welcome to the world of Mookie Betts.

Are there millions of people that wouldn't think twice about trading places with the teenager? Sure. But, here he is having to make a life-changing decision not long after becoming old enough to vote.

So, what's it gonna be? Donning the Power T with the Volunteers or signing on with one of the more recognizable franchises in all of sports in the Red Sox?

"I have really no idea right now," Betts told "Right now it's 50/50. There's so many pros and cons from both it's hard for me to choose one over the other because they're both my dream, you know?"

The Red Sox, who selected him with the 172nd pick overall in the fifth round, haven't approached him with a contract but Betts does talk to them "all the time" and he's met Boston general manager Theo Epstein. As of publication time of this story, the Red Sox had not signed any of their top eight selections and hadn't inked a single high school player taken in the first 34 rounds.

Betts said he plans on coming to Knoxville soon to take another look at things and to spend time with the new coaching staff, led by Dave Serrano, who just left another big-time job at Cal State Fullerton to help resurrect the baseball program at Tennessee.

Serrano took the position and brought assistant Greg Bergeron and volunteer assistant Gregg Wallis from Fullerton. Also joining the staff is Bill Mosiello, who stepped down as manager of the Double-A Arkansas Travelers of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization.

"I haven't met Serrano, but I've met coach Mo and coach Bergeron. I think they're real cool guys. I like them both. I mean, coach Serrano, just talking to him, I like him," Betts said.

Betts was one of eight in-state players to sign with former coach Todd Raleigh last November. In all, 14 players signed a letter of intent with UT.

"Mookie Betts we've seen and is an incredible player," said Mosiello, who is now UT's recruiting coordinator. "Boy, if we can land him, what a special player."

Betts batted .549 with six home runs, 37 RBIs and 24 stolen bases his junior year at Overton High in Nashville. Showing obvious consistency, he swung it at a .509 clip his senior season with 39 RBIs and 29 stolen bases.

He has the ability to play a variety of positions, including shortstop, second base and center field, which is a luxury often afforded to signing an athletic high school shortstop.

If he can improve his footwork and show the ability to stay on the dirt, Betts could see his stock rise, which could mean a far bigger signing bonus in three years if he can get it done in the SEC.

"That's one of the main things," said Betts, who turns 19 in October. "I know I went in the fifth, and I know that's pretty high, but I mean I think if I go to college I can end up coming out maybe in the first and getting a higher signing bonus.

"It's my dream to play in college, but it's my dream to play pro ball too. I just don't know which route I want to take because I always wanted to go to college and I can improve myself. Then again, I guess it would be the right thing for me to take it if it's in line, if everything is set up for me."

While he said he has never had anything against UT or its baseball program, Betts admits he grew up more of a basketball fan with what allegiance he had siding with Vanderbilt. That is starting to change as he builds relationships with fellow UT signees Parker Wormsley, David Horne, Jared Allen and Logan Moore.

The group considers Serrano & Co. taking over the program as a positive.

"When they talk to the coaches, they really think they're going to help them turn it around," Betts said. "UT had a horrible year last year. With the new coaches and with all the recruits coming in, we're going to have a good chance to turn it around and get it going in the right direction."

One perk that most other baseball players don't have growing up is his having a 14-year MLB veteran in the family. Betts spent some time in Colorado Springs, Colo., in the last year fine tuning his game with uncle Terry Shumpert.

"I went down there last year, and he helped me some. He helped me some on the infield, but he helped me more with my hitting and learning how to use my body, whatever I have," said Betts, who is 5-foot-9, 155 pounds.

After his Overton team fell in the Class AAA sectional three straight years to Mt. Juliet, Betts is ready to help build a winner wherever he goes.

"I definitely want to make it to the College World Series if I go to college," he said. "On the pro level, it'd be really hard. Hopefully I do get to a world series. Just playing in the playoffs and everything, the atmosphere changes a whole lot. I just want to be a part of that right now."

Betts is likely to take it easy the rest of the summer and plans to get with family to make the proper choice for his future. He recently returned from helping Dulin's Dodgers reach the semifinals out of 192 teams in the Perfect Game 18-Under World Wood Bat Association National Championship.

"That may have been my last tournament. I'm just going to chill out with my mom and dad and hopefully come up with a decision on what I'm going to do," he said.

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