Russell Wilson hitting home runs for the Yankees?
What’s next, Pete Carroll coaching UCLA to basketball’s Final Four?
The Seahawks’ franchise quarterback and former college and minor-league middle infielder began his annual baseball spring training cameo on Monday in Tampa, Florida, with the dreaded New York Yankees.
Yes, Seattle’s favorite football player fielded ground balls at second base for the Mariners’ playoff rival in 1995 and 2001. Wilson then was part of a hitting group with Yankees stars Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez for batting practice hours before New York played an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
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Wilson didn’t just spray line drives around George M. Steinbrenner Field. He hit balls out of it.
Sure, Wilson was homering off a white-haired coach not exactly throwing gas in a spring-training batting practice. That’s the major-league equivalent of you pitching to your kids in the backyard.
Still, the most indispensable Seahawk, the 29-year-old two-time Super Bowl starter who has two seasons remaining on his $87.6 million contract with Seattle’s football team, called his Monday with the Yankees “one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Wilson had his dream come true three weeks ago when the Texas Rangers, for whom he had worked out in spring training in previous Seahawks offseasons, ceremoniously “traded” him to New York.
“Ever since I was a young kid I always dreamed of being a Yankee. I always watched them. My favorite player was Derek Jeter,” Wilson told reporters in Tampa following his workout.
Wilson is wearing uniform number 73 for the Yankees, officially as a non-roster invitee to spring training. It’s a combination of Wilson’s old baseball number and his Seahawks’ number 3.
“I tried to get number 3 (for the Yankees). But I think somebody had it already,” Wilson deadpanned.
That would be this number 3:
“It’s an honor to be here,” Wilson said in Tampa.
“The thing I’m most excited is really learning about the Yankees and how they’ve won 27 world championships. You think about 27 world championships, what that takes, the mentality, there’s something...there’s an aroma around here that I’ve got to figure out. And I can’t wait to learn more about it and use that for my football career, as well.”
As a high-school senior at The Collegiate School in Richmond, Va., Wilson was a shortstop with a .467 batting average and a quarterback with 3,009 yards, 34 touchdowns and seven touchdown passes. In 2006, Wilson and eventual San Francisco Giants World Series Most Valuable Player Madison Bumgarner were roommates at the Area Code Games, an annual showcase for the nation’s elite high school baseball players held in Long Beach, California.
North Carolina State offered Wilson football and baseball scholarships, and the Baltimore Orioles drafted Wilson in the 41st round of baseball's draft out of high school. He went on to play three seasons of baseball at N.C. State. During that time, in 2010, the Colorado Rockies selected Wilson in the fourth round of baseball’s draft. That summer Wilson played infield for the Tri-City Dust Devils in Pasco, in the Northwest League. Then he returned to N.C. State for his junior season of football.
He graduated from North Carolina State with one season of football eligibility remaining then played one more season of professional baseball, for the Class-A Asheville Tourists in North Carolina. He gave up baseball in June 2011 after hitting .229 with 118 strikeouts in 315 at-bats, then played his fifth-year senior season of football at Wisconsin. Wilson quarterbacked the Badgers to the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Seahawks selected him a few months later in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. That was the end of Wilson's baseball career -- aside from the visits to the Rangers' spring-training camp the last few years as that uniformed "guest."
As with the Rangers, Wilson will not appear in any spring-training games this week with the Yankees. New York manager Aaron Boone confirmed that Wilson will merely be on the bench in uniform during exhibition games there, a nod to any Seahawks concerns over possible injury.
“I’m ready to go up there, if they want me to,” Wilson teased of Yankees games. “I’m ready to hack away.”