The Seahawks QB got his chance at the plate in pinstripes.
TAMPA, Fla. – Russell Wilson has plied his trade on the biggest stage in sports, quarterbacking in the Super Bowl with the spectacle of 80,000 fans in attendance and a worldwide audience tuning in for what is almost a national holiday.
So it may seem odd that hearing his name echo through the stands at George M. Steinbrenner Field before a crowd about one-tenth the size brought a special feeling to him.
“I’ll always remember when they announced my name and they call you up there,” Wilson said. “You get to go up to the plate and the crowd’s going crazy, the Yankees fans. I used to go crazy for Derek Jeter when he walked up to the plate. To have that feeling and that experience I’ll never ever forget that and it’ll always be a memory of mine forever.”
It’s a feeling that is magical enough even to the most jaded athlete that Jeter had the tape of the late Bob Sheppard announcing his name still serving as his introduction even after Sheppard passed away.
And for Wilson, to hear it in this spring training game was the culmination of a childhood dream. That he stepped in and struck out wasn’t going to dim that and maybe that’s a little hint of what baseball means to little boys and grown men, too.
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Wilson may have arrived at Yankees camp with a goal of learning, soaking in some of the traditions of the team and trying to impart some of his own lessons learned through the rigors of the National Football League to the team.
But when his week of batting practice and infield drills, bringing back some of the feelings of seven years earlier when he gave the game up to concentrate on football, was good enough to believe, he cleared it with the Seattle Seahawks front office and head coach Pete Carroll and asked for a chance to get in the game.
So he went up to the plate for the first time in a game since June 25,2011 when he was playing second base for the Colorado Rockies Class A Asheville Tourists and grounded into a double play at the hands of Chasen Shreve – who happened to be in the clubhouse with him this week as a member of the Yankees’ bullpen.
His thoughts weren’t as much on that seven-year gap as they were about what it would have meant to his father, Benjamin Wilson III, who had played baseball and football at Dartmouth and who had taught him the game before passing away in 2010.
“I think back to my dad,” Wilson said. “I think back to all the hard work you put into something, your whole life you train to get to this place, this level, and everything else. Obviously playing football and baseball, to be able to put the jersey on – funny story, my uncle Al, he’s lived in New York for years and years and years. And he wears the Yankee hat no matter where he goes. The only place he doesn’t wear it is in the courtroom and in the pool. But everywhere he goes he wears it, even when he comes to the Seahawks games. I just think about the people that have really meant a lot to me in my life. Just to have this opportunity to play with a great organization, to do this and to really be a part of this family, it’s been great.”
When he stepped in against Max Fried, who was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 draft, he heard the roar of the crowd. But he also heard the voice of his father.
So when Fried tried to deliver a fastball down the middle Wilson swung and swung hard, fouling it back. He then took a slow curve for strike two, but took two pitches before striking out swinging on a 93 mile per hour fastball.
What he heard in his head, what his father would have told him, were lessons that he was happy to have fulfilled even without a hit.
“Well, first of all he would have been pumped up because I was ready to go the first pitch,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t up there to just look around and just hang out in the box. I was going for it. He would have liked that. The second thing he would have said to me is don’t ever strike out looking. I didn’t strike out looking, I’ll tell you that.”
The Yankees certainly don’t need him as a gate attraction, not with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton already being tracked as the heart of a modern day Murderer’s Row, and their own real spring sensation in Miguel Andujar. And Wilson was certainly not interested in just being a celebrity sighting playing in a fantasy camp.
Across the state in Port St. Lucie another former quarterback, Tim Tebow, was continuing his own attempt to rekindle his baseball career that halted in high school – striking out on three pitches against Max Scherzer, but singling later for the Mets. Wilson said he is rooting for Tebow, but he was focused on his own chance – that first pitch.
“I was ready to roll,” Wilson said. “I just missed it. If I would’ve connected with that one it would have been gone a long way. So it’s part of baseball. It’s fun.”
“He walked straight into my office this morning with a smile on his face, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do this,’” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I was excited. I told (Aaron Judge), we’re going to hit for you here with Russell. I think the guys got a big kick out of it. He had a pretty good at-bat, man. He even came up to me later like, ‘Gosh, I just missed that first one. You’ve got to go see my swing on it. Did you see it?’ I’m like, ‘I know. I was sitting here watching.’ Good bat speed.
“That kid that came in throwing, pretty good velo and broke him off a pretty good curveball for strike two also, then works his way back in the count. Pretty competitive at-bat for a guy that hasn’t been there against a pitcher in a long time. I think he really enjoyed it. He got his juices flowing and I think he represented himself very well.”
He dressed afterward and Tyler Austin, who had delivered the two-run, walk-off homer in the Yankees 6-5 win, waited patiently for the crowd around Wilson to make room for him to get to his locker next to Wilson’s. He will be in camp for one more day before returning to his own real world Sunday morning, but was content with one at-bat.
The Seahawks QB got his chance at the plate in pinstripes.