Shortly after being traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees on Wednesday, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson gave a social media shoutout to his late father. Harrison Wilson III, a lifelong Yankees fan, died in 2010 from complications related to diabetes. He had always hoped that his son would wear the pinstripes one day.
“I think he’s smiling from ear to ear,” Wilson said. “It was always something we talked about. He used to watch all the old Yankees and tell me stories. To be able put on the pinstripes, it’s pretty exciting. It’s going to give me chills.”
Wilson took time out from a busy day to talk to ESPN.com about his sporting priorities, his spring training plans, and the reasons he can’t walk away from baseball despite four Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl victory with the Seattle Seahawks.
You’re not trying to pull a Bo Jackson or a Deion Sanders, are you? How serious is this?
Russell Wilson: “For me, it’s about staying in the game and being around great players and people, and a great organization and great fans. Yankees fans are some of the best in the world.
“Playing two sports has always been a dream. But at this point in my life, playing quarterback in the NFL is a job I love and a responsibility I work on and take seriously every single day. My main goal is to win multiple Super Bowls coming up, to keep winning games and do my job at the highest level I can. But at the same time, I can also embrace the journey that baseball has taken me on, and be around championship players like the Yankees.”
You gave an interview in 2015 in which you said you would never want to “kill the dream” of playing two sports. So have you ruled that out?
“I always say, ‘Nothing is impossible.’ I’ll never say never. But my focus is on football and winning championships right now.”
What are your spring training plans?
“I’ll go to big-league spring training. We haven’t figured out all the details yet. This is all just kind of happening here.”
What was your initial reaction when the trade became official?
“There are three things I think about when I reflect on this opportunity. First of all, I played baseball growing up, and it’s a big part of my life and who I am today. Second of all, the mental aspect of the game is so critical. And it’s something special to be around a world-class organization like the Yankees that’s won 27 World Series rings. When you think about that, there’s a formula to their success. I’d love to dive into their success some more. I’m glad I’m a part of that now.”
You’ve mentioned your father’s desire to see you play for the Yankees. Where did that originate?
“We used to watch the Yankees when I was growing up, and we always used to talk about that — what a dream it would be. Also, my great uncle is from New York City and he wears a Yankees hat every day. I’ve always been a Yankees fan since I was little.”
Who was your favorite Yankee when you were growing up?
“There are so many guys I could name, but Derek Jeter was the guy I really admired — and still do to this day. It was just his professionalism on and off the field. The other admirable thing was his competitiveness, and the way that he competed. He played with a lot of fire, but he was always calm. I always admired that.”
“It’s like being with [Seahawks tight end] Jimmy Graham, He’s 6-foot-7, 270 pounds or whatever. Funny thing is, Jimmy and I talked about it during the baseball playoffs. We were rooting for Judge because Jimmy looks kind of similar to him. It’s kind of funny.”
The Yankees, like the Rangers, are looking forward to you being around their players and imparting lessons from your NFL success. What insights do you plan to share?
“These guys know what they’re doing. They’ve been successful for a long time. I just want to pass along whatever knowledge I can to help serve and give. That’s my focus. And also, to have some fun while playing some baseball.”
How does being involved with baseball help prepare you for an NFL season?
“It’s a huge thing. Baseball has been a major part of my life, but also a major part of my success mentally in sports. The idea of a one-pitch mentality, one moment at a time, [applies] to playing quarterback as well. More than anything, I want to continue to dive into the mental side of the game.
“For example, when I used to play second base or shortstop, I would swipe the dirt almost every time between pitches just to clear my head. If you’re a pitcher, guys redo their cap every pitch or tug on their jersey or whatever. It’s all about that mental space.
You’re also looking for that competitive edge in terms of hitting and stealing bases and being on the offensive side of the ball. That one-pitch mentality is critical. It’s the same thing playing quarterback in big situations. Third down. Red zone. Fourth-quarter comebacks. All that is critical.”
You’ve talked about how much you loved playing baseball as a kid. You’ve never gotten it out of your system, have you?
“Baseball has always been a love of mine. I started playing T-ball when I was 3½ or four years old. I just love being around sports in general, and I love watching some of the best players.
“You know what I’m fascinated by? Great players, great organizations and great business people. Whatever you’re great at, I want to dive in and learn more about it. There’s that constant quest for knowledge and understanding success and what it looks like. I want to use that for my own game and my own life.”
Anything in particular you’re looking forward to when you arrive in Tampa?
“I’m super excited to be in the locker room and be on the field and in the dugout — just be around the guys and understand the things they do successfully and why. I’m passionate about success and understanding it more and better and diving into that part of it.
“Also, there’s nothing better than the smell of some fresh-cut green grass on a baseball field.”
Are you looking forward to hitting some batting practice homers in Florida? You went deep with the Rangers in spring training, right?
“Yeah, I did. But I think Judge and Stanton will hit it a little bit farther than me.”
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