LAS VEGAS — It truly is, with apologies to Charles Dickens, a tale of two locker rooms. Or a baseball clubhouse and a football locker room.
Because in the San Francisco Giants‘ inner sanctum, the story of All-Star outfielder Joc Pederson being ahead of Las Vegas Raiders All-Pro receiver Davante Adams on their high school football team’s depth chart at wideout is well known. With a good-intentioned eye roll. Or three.
“Yeah, I might have heard that story a little bit,” Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said this summer with a smirk. “He’s definitely mentioned it a few times, something about his numbers and him being a ‘Wide Receiver 1.’
“I just assumed Davante was getting double[-teamed] every night so Joc would be open. That’s kind of what I figured.”
Across the clubhouse, Giants ace Logan Webb, who grew up a huge Raiders fan outside of Sacramento, is more than impressed.
“I think it’s awesome, especially because he was technically ahead of him and Davante is now the No. 1 receiver in the whole league,” Webb laughed. “That’s pretty cool. I would make fun of Joc and say, ‘Where did that athleticism go?'”
But some 500-plus miles southeast from the Bay Area, in the Raiders’ desert-dwelling compound, the story is a nonstarter.
“I had no idea,” said Raiders Pro Bowl punter AJ Cole, a die-hard Braves fan who recalled Pederson’s heroics in Atlanta’s 2021 run to the World Series title. “Must be a talent hotbed. I want to see some stats. I need to see some stats.”
And safety Johnathan Abram, who goes against Adams in practice every day and was a highly regarded high school baseball prospect in Mississippi, wanted proof. “For real?” Abram mused. “That’s a crazy stat. Look at both of them boys now.”
Pederson is a two-time World Series champion who has 702 hits and 171 home runs in nine major league seasons. Adams, whose 1-3 Raiders play at the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+/ABC), is a two-time All-Pro receiver who has 695 career receptions for 8,411 yards and 76 touchdowns in eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers and four games with the Raiders.
So how, you might ask, given the career paths Adams and Pederson have taken, was a future two-time All-Pro pass-catcher a backup to a future two-time Home Run Derby contender the one year they played together?
Both have thrived in their respective sports. In fact, they each made their respective big league debuts within three days of each other in September 2014.
But in 2009, all eyes were on the football field at Palo Alto (California) High School.
THEY WERE CALLED “X-Power” on the field, as much a nickname for the duo as a reference to the position they shared as prep receivers.
“I was the backup ‘X,'” Adams said. “Even if we were on the field at the same time.”
Adams was a junior, Pederson a senior in that fall of 2009. Adams was also playing his first year of organized football since breaking his left arm playing football in the eighth grade.
“It was the first game, the last play of the first half,” Adams said. “I was a quarterback. I just said, ‘I’m done with this s—. I’m not breaking bones.'”
Three years later, buoyed by family, Adams joined Pederson on the Palo Alto football team. The two had been “tight friends” since middle school, Adams said, and had already been teammates on the Vikings’ basketball squad. That’s where Adams made his first major impression on Pederson.
“I just remember, we were playing basketball and he was a freshman, I was a sophomore, and he was always trying to dunk, trying to dunk,” Pederson recalled. “He could dunk, but the next year he was doing like 360s. It just went to a whole different level of, ‘Woah, that’s …’ between the legs, 360s, just everything.
“I think he could win a dunk contest in the NBA. That’s how special of an athlete he is.”
Well, after his first touchdown with the Raiders in the season-opening loss at the Los Angeles Chargers, Adams celebrated with a pseudo-Isaiah Rider-styled “East Bay Funk Dunk.” In midair, while still rising to the SoFi Stadium goal post, he put the ball between his legs and, just before dunking the ball over the crossbar, dropped the pigskin harmlessly to the end zone.
In high school, it was Pederson who stood out.
“He was a dog,” Adams said of his geology class partner.
”He was a hell of a player,” Adams continued. “He showed me a lot. I wouldn’t look at him, like, the vet because he was always, just to paint the picture, he was kind of like a goofball in high school a little bit. But he was … a stud in all three sports [football, basketball and baseball].
“And I [already] knew so much about football, so it wasn’t that type of vibe. But I learned a lot from him as far as him being kind of the old head wideout and watching him from afar. … He was one of the most gritty [teammates] I ever had. He was going to talk some s—.”
That talk was sometimes directed to their football coach, Earl Hansen, a legend in South Bay high school coaching ranks who counts Jim Harbaugh as one of his early quarterbacks and who won more than 200 games combined in 31 seasons at Palo Alto and San Lorenzo Valley.
Indeed, Hansen, known as the “Silver Fox,” said he kicked Pederson off the team early in 2009 after what Hansen said was “an outburst.”
Pederson was back soon enough after making amends, and Adams recalled Pederson going off against San Jose Archbishop Mitty High in his first game back with 100 yards receiving in a quarter.
“That was back before anybody really had swag,” Adams said. “He had swag. He scored and threw the ball back. That was old-school, where you wore 16 bands on your arms. He was one of the ones doing that. He was doing the baseball thing so he had some exclusive drip he would give us, too. The camo long sleeve and all that.”
Stats? Cole, the Raiders punter, wanted stats.
That 2009 Palo Alto team went 7-2-2, with Pederson catching 30 passes for 650 yards (21.7 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns and Adams, again in his first year of organized high school football, catching 25 passes for 484 yards (19.4 YPC) and seven TDs.
You can see them both in action here
Pederson (#6) with a nice catch and run to set up an Adams (#10) touchdown catch. pic.twitter.com/4sLT5Ivlib
— Baseball Quotes (@BaseballQuotes1) January 17, 2021
“Basically, his first year, he knew what he was supposed to do but he didn’t know what the others were supposed to do,” Hansen, who retired after the 2013 season, said of Adams. “It didn’t take long.
“It was fun, we could call all kinds of different plays and it would work. It was pretty special. We were having a pretty good year, until our quarterback got hurt.”
Pederson remembers how elusive Adams was after making the catch.
“It’s not like he’s super, super fast, but his quickness just stands out,” Pederson said. “If there’s one person trying to tackle him, that one person’s not going to tackle him. Not even touch him, really. He just finds a way to juke you. It’s pretty impressive.”
NFL defensive backs concur.
PEDERSON GRADUATED IN the spring of 2010 with his eyes strictly on baseball and was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 11th round of MLB’s June draft. He went on to spend time in such minor league outposts as Midland, Michigan, Rancho Cucamonga, California, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In the fall of 2010, with Adams firmly entrenched as WR1, Hansen’s Vikings went 14-0 and won the California Division I state title. Adams received a scholarship to Fresno State and evolved from being an unranked recruit to become a second-round draft pick by the Packers in 2014.
Pederson made his major league debut pinch hitting at Dodger Stadium on Sept. 1, 2014, striking out looking to end the game with Juan Uribe at third base and Carl Crawford at first in a 6-4 loss to the Washington Nationals. Adams debuted in the NFL three days later in Seattle, playing 18 snaps (nine on offense, nine on special teams) and did not have a pass thrown his way in the Packers’ 36-16 loss to the Seahawks.
Despite such inauspicious beginnings to their pro careers, they have thrived. And they have stayed in touch with the occasional text. Adams and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr took special glee in watching Pederson homer and then talk trash to a fan who had been riding him in Milwaukee earlier this season after Adams sent Carr a link to the video on Instagram.
But these are strange days for Pederson, who will not be playing in the postseason for the first time in his big league career after being part of the past two World Series champs in the 2020 Dodgers (one of six L.A. playoff teams he played on) and the Braves last year. Adams is still chasing his first Lombardi Trophy while getting his sea legs on the raucous Raiders ship, seeing three consecutive losses before beating the Denver Broncos in Week 4.
“He loves it,” Pederson said. “I mean, the Raiders have been his favorite team since he was a little kid, and it’s kind of a dream come true.
“At Fresno State he just continued to grow, and in the NFL, continuing to get better. He’s hungry to get better, and it’s been a fun journey to watch.”