SURPRISE, Ariz. — Russell Wilson ranged to his left, twirled and threw a strike — or first down — to shortstop Elvis Andrus to start a double play. In that moment, he was neither a baseball nor a football player. He was simply a marvelous athlete making the incredible look routine.
Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington looked at his coaches and laughed in amazement. It would not be the last time Wilson left the baseball lifer marveling.
“It’s in him,” Washington said. “Baseball is definitely in him.”
For a day, Wilson, the Seahawks’ Super Bowl-winning quarterback, moonlighted as a major-leaguer. It was good, harmless fun. But if you thought it was merely a publicity stunt, then you forgot how Wilson operates. With his earnest approach, Wilson turned what could’ve been a hokey event into a worthwhile spring-training visit.
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“It’s a great experience, being around a champion,” said Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, a former Mariner. “There’s a lot to take from him.”
Wilson arrived at Rangers camp even earlier than expected. On Sunday night, he attended and spoke for about 20 minutes at a team banquet for players, sponsors and suite holders in Scottsdale. It was a speech so good that team personnel were still raving the next morning. Then he came to the ballpark at 6:20 a.m. Monday, mingled with members of the Rangers organization and even participated in an early-morning session of defensive drills before the team’s practice.
Wilson, the baseball player, wears reflective Oakley sunglasses and stuffs batting gloves and sunflower seeds in his back pockets. His blue Texas jersey fits him as well as his Seahawks jersey. While it was startling to see him in another sport’s uniform — not to mention another team’s — Wilson has a way of making everything seem natural, even on a baseball field.
“He did excellent,” Washington said. “He really did. He surprised me, for not being out on the baseball field for a while.”
Don’t fret that Wilson will be giving up football anytime soon, however. He only took ground balls and threw the baseball. He didn’t hit, and he sat in the dugout and watched the Rangers’ Cactus League game against Cleveland. Wilson had promised the Seahawks he would “be smart” and not overextend himself. He and the Rangers kept it simple.
“This is something I’ve done my entire life,” Wilson said when asked about being careful. “It’s not like I’m picking up bobsledding.”
For sure, Wilson still itches to play baseball. If he could figure out a way to be an elite NFL quarterback and continue his Major League dream, he would. That’s why he refused to rule out the idea Monday. But he’s also realistic.
At this point, Wilson’s baseball fascination shouldn’t be considered a problem. He’s an achiever because he resists limitation, and that trait has helped him become a great quarterback at age 25. There’s no use restricting his imagination because those dreams contribute to his success.
“My focus is on football, but you never say never,” said Wilson, who hit .229 in 315 minor-league at-bats in 2010 and 2011. “I’ve just won a championship, and my goal is to win another one. But I’ve always dreamed of playing two sports. If, by some miracle, I could, I would love to.”
Wilson has had conversations with NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who played 641 career big-league games as a center fielder, about being a two-sport star. Sanders encourages Wilson. But Wilson shakes his head and says, “I’ve got to watch film a little bit more than Deion did.”
Ultimately, Wilson is too great and too motivated a quarterback to do more than flirt with the notion. He has too much at stake. He figures to sign a $100 million NFL contract after next season, and he wants to leave his mark on the game of football.
“Yeah, I won a Super Bowl and all that, but that’s not enough for me,” Wilson said. “My goal is to be one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game, if not the best.”
If so, Wilson will have to settle for spring-training visits for his baseball fix. The Rangers selected Wilson in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft last December and paid $12,000 to get his rights from the Colorado Rockies. Rangers president Jon Daniels took a chance, just in case, but he figured there was value in Wilson, the winner, even if he never gave baseball another try.
And there’s certainly value in the buzz he created Monday. Seahawks and Rangers fans alike flocked to welcome the quarterback/second baseman. A woman held up a 12th Man flag. During practice, fans reacted to every ground ball hit Wilson’s way. “Russ-ell Wil-son!” chants filled the air. During the game, about 600 fans wearing Seahawks gear were in attendance, even though Wilson didn’t play.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Wilson said of the 12th Man. “They’re everywhere. They really are.”
Wilson is everywhere, too. He has done the talk-show circuit. Now he has visited Rangers camp. What’s next? He’s scheduled to fly home to Seattle on Tuesday and turn his attention back to football. He returns to his real job having made an impact on the Rangers.
“They can take something from his attitude,” Washington said. “Take something from his preparation. That guy around you, he draws attention. He’s such a personable guy, great character guy. He’s a champion. Twenty-five years old — he’s special.”
And, fortunately, the Seahawks have dibs on the multitasking quarterback.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer