Russell Wilson: 'Never say never'
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson says he's going to hang up his No. 3 blue Texas Rangers jersey (with "Wilson" on the back, of course) somewhere in his house when he gets home. But will he ever try to be a two-sport star and wear it in the major leagues someday?
"You never say never," Wilson said following a full day of activity with the Rangers at spring training in Arizona. "I've always had the dream of playing two sports. If somehow it was a miracle that it could work out, I'd consider it. At the same time, my focus is winning the championship with the Seattle Seahawks and hope to be playing for a long time."
Wilson said he missed the game of baseball, which he started playing when he was 4 years old (he started swinging a bat when he was 2). Maybe that's why he wasted little time returning, at least for a day, to his baseball roots.
The former infielder got his day started early Monday. He was in the clubhouse by 7 a.m. for breakfast and then trotted out to the back fields for an individual infield session with manager Ron Washington. With plenty of cameras trained on his every move, Wilson went through the session as Washington, known as one of the top infielder instructors in the game, showed him a few pointers and worked on improving his hands and feet.
Wilson made the manager a believer.
"If he continued to work and get the repetition, he could probably be as good as he is a football player," Washington said.
That's high praise from a baseball lifer.
"He surprised me for not being out on the baseball field for a while," Washington said. "I might have burned his legs up a little bit, but he made it through all the drills and did a fantastic job. He's got tremendous aptitude. That's why he is who he is. You give him something, and he knows how to apply it."
For the Rangers, the club's 24 hours with Wilson were about having his knowledge, commitment, focus and work ethic rub off on the organization's younger players. It was about having those players hear about what makes a 25-year-old, at the top of his game, successful. His schedule included talking with the team's minor leaguers Monday evening and attending a private dinner with a dozen or so big league players and Rangers personnel.
"He said he really had that self-motivation to always get better and be a great athlete and a person. I want to apply that to what I'm doing. He has the whole package. It was worth hearing," said outfielder Michael Choice, one year younger than Wilson and one of the club's top prospects. "I want to apply that to what I'm doing. He has the whole package. It was worth hearing."
But there was something in it for Wilson, too.
"More than anything, just the experience of being around a championship organization and a team that has done a lot of great things -- how poised these guys are, how relaxed they are, how much fun they have coming to work every day," Wilson said. "It's the same thing we try to do with the Seattle Seahawks. It really is. It's the same language that they use in terms of competing and playing great ball all the time and having the right mindset. It transfers over. For me, playing the quarterback position, you have to have amnesia. You have to be able to stay focused one pitch at a time and all those things. So for me, coming back out here feels right at home."
Wilson hung out with some of the club's regulars, chatting with Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and others during various team drills. He took grounders with the rest of the infielders, and whenever he made a play -- even a routine one -- hundreds of fans chanted his name. Many of them wore Seahawks No. 3 jerseys and snapped pictures. Some held signs thanking him for winning the Super Bowl last month. The number of fans rivaled those at Yu Darvish's first intrasquad game in 2012, an inning that was broadcast live on TV in Japan.
"I just wanted to see Russell Wilson and make a memory for my son," said Trevor Tiner, holding his 3-year-old son, Carson, decked out in his Wilson jersey. Tiner moved to Arizona a few weeks ago from Spokane, Wash., and was thrilled that Wilson was there. "I think he could play baseball if he wanted. He's such a great athlete and he works hard at everything he does."
More than 100 fans crowded into the first four rows of Surprise Stadium more than an hour before the first pitch of the Rangers' Cactus League game with the Cleveland Indians, hoping for an autograph. Some of them got their wish, as Wilson emerged from the Rangers' dugout about 15 minutes early and signed some of them, just as he did for a bit after working out in the back of the club's complex.
Wilson's only time in the batter's box was as the Rangers' representative in exchanging the lineup card. The club and Wilson weren't going to take any chances on an injury in a meaningless spring training game. That didn't stop the strong Seahawks contingent from chanting his name or various Seahawks cheers throughout the game.
"The 12th man fans were unbelievable today," Wilson said. "They're unbelievable every day. They're everywhere. They find a way to make something happen, so just the Seattle Seahawks fans, the 12th man fans, are out in the outfield, they're on third-base line, first-base line, chanting 'Seahawks' the whole way. Hopefully the Dallas fans didn't get too mad. It really is a special thing we have in Seattle and it was great."
Wilson hadn't been in a baseball uniform since 2011, when he played Class A ball with the Colorado Rockies, the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2010 and signed him for $200,000. Wilson played parts of two seasons in Class A in 2010 and 2011, hitting a combined .229 in 315 at-bats with five homers and 26 RBIs.
Several scouts this week said they believed Wilson was a solid defender with, obviously, a good arm. But his bat was lacking, and they thought he needed at least 1,500 at-bats to find consistency and understand pitch recognition. Wilson didn't get that chance, opting to play football for Wisconsin in 2011 and then heading to Seattle as a third-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
"We wanted him in our organization," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's a winner and he goes about things the right way. He's driven, motivated and works hard. That's the kind of player and person we want around everyone on the club."
Wilson was grateful for the opportunity but acknowledged it was a one-day deal. He said his focus will go back to football Tuesday. And he hopes to play in the NFL a long time and to do that in Seattle.
"My goal is to, obviously, win multiple Super Bowls there," Wilson said. "We won the first one. Now the goal is to win the second one and to play there for a very, very long time. I initially started off, when I came to the National Football League, I was 23 years old and I said I wanted to play until I was 35. That's 12 years. Now I've bumped it up to 20. I don't know if I can do it. The key is staying healthy and doing the right things."
But if he ever gets the itch to play baseball again, the Rangers made it clear to him that they want him to do it in Texas. Daniels told Wilson when the Rangers selected him in the Rule 5 draft in December that the door was always open.
"It was one of those things that if I wanted to pursue it I could," Wilson said. "They wanted to be a part of me playing two sports if that ever came around."
For now, he'll be content to hang that Rangers jersey in his house and try to win another Super Bowl in Seattle.