Wilson makes an impression on Rangers
Washington, players take notice of Super Bowl champion's winning approach
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Russell Wilson isn't quitting his day job any time soon. He's the third youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and he led the Seattle Seahawks to the first title in franchise history.
But the 5-foot-11 former second baseman certainly has a viable backup option, should he opt for a career change. A two-sport star, Wilson had his rights acquired by the Texas Rangers in the Triple-A edition of December's Rule 5 Draft. He played the part of a ballplayer on Monday.
Wilson was in uniform for the Rangers in a Cactus League tilt against Cleveland. Before the game, he took ground balls and went through double-play drills. He even brought the team's lineup card to home plate, though that was the only action he saw in a 6-5 loss.
An ardent lover of baseball, Wilson reiterated that his focus remains on football. But when asked if that could ever change down the line, his response was a tried and true, "You never say never."
"I've always had the dream of playing two sports," Wilson said. "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 I hope to be playing for a long time."
Like other young Rangers middle infielders looking to get in some extra work Monday morning, Wilson was out early taking ground balls and perfecting his double-play footwork on a practice field behind Surprise Stadium.
He sported a loose short-sleeved Rangers fleece with batting gloves in one back pocket and a pack of sunflower seeds in the other. If it weren't for the flock of about 50 media members, Wilson would have blended in nicely as a young second baseman hoping to make the roster.
"Man, my smile was from ear to ear, just to be in the locker room with these guys," Wilson said. "It was just an honor to be in the locker room with those guys. I look up to them. I watch baseball all the time."
Wilson spent two years as a Minor League infielder in the Rockies' system, hitting .229 in 315 at-bats. More of an on-base and speed threat, he stole 15 bases in 61 games and posted an on-base percentage of .366 despite hitting just .228 for Class A Asheville in 2011.
Of course, that was before he committed to football and was drafted by the Seahawks, leading them to a championship in his second year behind center.
"His desire to win, it's something that's noticeable, and his dedication to what he does makes him what he is," Rangers outfielder Alex Rios said. "He's a champion, and I believe that if every single one of us gets the same attitude, we'll be able to achieve many things on the field."
Count manager Ron Washington among those impressed with what he saw on the diamond. Washington praised Wilson's quick hands and athletic build, but most of all he praised his mental makeup.
"If he continued to work and got the repetition [in baseball], he could probably be as good as he is a football player," Washington said.
High praise, considering all that Wilson has accomplished on the gridiron.
And Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is just as confident that Wilson would fit right into a Major League clubhouse.
"He's a homeboy," Andrus said. "It feels like he was just another guy here in camp. It was real impressive when you stop and think of who actually he is."
Wilson spent about an hour taking light ground balls and turning double plays with Washington and about a half-dozen other Rangers middle infielders. He booted one on an in-between hop, but made every other play.
Despite his time at Rangers camp being a one-day stint, Wilson wasn't cutting any corners. He followed through with a jump on each double-play simulation, and he wasn't exempt from picking up the bag of baseballs and moving it to the next station.
"It was an unbelievable experience, better than I could have ever imagined to be honest with you," Wilson said.
As the day wore on, the Seahawks' fans arrived in flocks, and Surprise was littered with different shades of green. Wilson signed autographs up the first-base line before and after the game and was treated to a chorus of "Seahawks" throughout.
Wilson joked that he wouldn't have expected anything less from the Seattle fans. He also compared Washington to his own coach, Pete Carroll, in their intense-but-fair approaches.
"[We talked] about how much discipline it takes to be great, and how you have to be hard-nosed sometimes too in terms of just being tougher than everybody else," Wilson said of his conversation with Washington. "Just being able to overcome obstacles -- That's what sports is all about, that's what life's all about, and that's why I respect Ron Washington so much."
It's mutual, and Washington hoped some of Wilson's work ethic rubs off on his own players.
"Take something from his attitude, take something from his preparation," Washington said. "That guy around you, he draws attention because he's such a personable guy, a great character guy. He's well-prepared in what he's doing. He's 25 years old. He's special."
In his postgame news conference, Wilson acknowledged that he's constantly prodded by former two-sport star Deion Sanders to pick up his glove again.
But, diplomatically as ever, Wilson said it's a dream of his, but it's just that -- a dream.
"I always miss baseball -- that's one of those things I played since I was 4 years old," he said. "I go to baseball games all the time, and I love the game. "But at the same time I know that God made me 5-foot-11 for a reason and, he wanted me to go against the odds of everyone telling me 'no' in football. For me, playing football is something that is very, very special, and I've got a great team in Seattle."