Washington Diplomat defender Don Droege did not have to spend too many sleepless nights pondering the decision of whether to pursue a professional career in baseball or soccer.
"My brother Bill was a great baseball player but he didn't make it to the major leagues," Droege said. "It really bothered him and me. I knew then I didn't want to go through that. I realized baseball paid more money, but you have to go through the minor leagues and hope."
The muscular 6-foot, 180-pound Droege, who looks as if he just stepped off the beach, has not regretted his decision. One of the better young American players in the North American Soccer League, Droege spurned an offer from the Chicago Cubs baseball team to play soccer.
"I thought I was better at soccer, anyway," Droege said. "I'd been playing the game since the third grade. In my neighborhood, everyone played soccer. Soccer was the thing in St. Louis."
One of 11 children, Droege was weaned on sports. His father, Bill Sr., played baseball in the Cub organization. All six of the Droege boys participated in baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis. All had the dream of making it big in sports one day.
"You played all day, having fun," Droege said. "We had a basketball court in the backyard and since there were so many of us, we didn't have any problem finding anyone to play against.
"All of my brothers were good athletes and we had a lot of area teams to play on," he said. "You play for the school, then later for a club team or in the amateur league. My father was a good soccer player."
Droege began to concentrate on soccer when he entered high school. He earned a soccer scholarship to St. Louis University and started for three years.
Many of his neighborhood friends also went to St. Louis so Droege knew he would have no trouble adjusting to college life. And since St. Louis was the dominant soccer school in the U.S. with 10 NCAA titles in the last 16 years, he also thought he might have a legitimate shot at the NASL.
"The league wasn't that strong then, but we were conscious of it," Droege said."In college, I decided I really wanted to play pro soccer.A few of my friends had already been drafted so I thought I could play pro soccer."
Whatever doubts Droege harbored about his future pro career vanished when he was drafted as a junior by the Minnesota Kicks. But the 24-year-old elected to finish college and Rochester drafted him the following year.
"I didn't like Rochester and I didn't make beans," Droege said. "I got about $4,000 for signing and another $2,000 for starting. My next year, I got a little more."
In his first pro game, Droege was assigned to cover Pele, who was playing for the Cosmos.
"Here was the Babe Ruth of soccer and I was playing against him," Droege said. "I was nervous.He scored that game. Actually, he scored four goals in the three games we played them that year."
Droege's two seasons in Rochester will hardly get more than a mention in his memoirs.
"I wanted out of there even before Gordon Bradley (Washington coach) got me," Droege said.
Joining the Dips has helped Droege mature both as a player and as a person. He was selected to play on the U.S. National Team two months ago.
He blushes slightly when the game is mentioned because, he admitted, it turned out to be one of his "worst moments in life."
The French National team smashed the U.S., 6-0, at Giants Stadium. Two of the goals were results of Droege mistakes.
"It was not one of my better performances," he said. "But then, they were the best team I'd ever seen or played against."
Droege will be one of the first to admit American players still must improve before they reach the level of their foreign teammates.
"They start at an early age and play 11 months a year," Droege said. "We play maybe four months. They get better technical training on the basic skills. We're getting better. It'll just take time."
Droege said he eventually wants to earn enough money to start some sort of business. Before that, he would like to help Washington win the NASL title and perhaps one year be elected to the all-NASL team.
On Droege's trips home, he's hardly treated like a pro celebrity.
"I'm not treated any different because I'm the only pro athelete in the family," Droege said. "I'm just one of six Droege brothers." CAPTION: Picture 1, Don Droege; Picture 2, Don Droege chose soccer over baseball and has no regrets. By John W. Albino for the Washington Post