TAMPA, Fla. -- Russell Wilson listened for his name to be announced over the public-address system at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday, and he also noticed the crowd reaction while carrying his black Louisville Slugger toward home plate. But what he heard was his father's voice.Granted a pinch-hit at-bat in
TAMPA, Fla. -- Russell Wilson listened for his name to be announced over the public-address system at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday, and he also noticed the crowd reaction while carrying his black Louisville Slugger toward home plate. But what he heard was his father's voice.
Granted a pinch-hit at-bat in the Yankees' 5-4 Grapefruit League victory over the Braves, the Seahawks' quarterback imagined what Harrison Wilson III might be thinking had he been sitting in the sun-splashed seats on this perfect 78-degree afternoon. And because Wilson ripped at the first pitch, he believes that his late father would have approved.
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"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."
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After fouling that Max Fried fastball back to the screen, Wilson gawked as the 24-year-old lefty -- Atlanta's No. 7 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- snapped off a slow curve for strike two. Taking a pair of pitches outside the zone to work the count even, Wilson then took a healthy rip at a 93-mph heater up and in for strike three.
"The best thing for me is, I had no fear. I went up there with confidence," Wilson said. "I was ready. I'll always remember that. I'll always remember when they announced my name and they call you up there, 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."
It marked Wilson's first professional at-bat since June 2011, when he played for Class A Asheville in the Rockies' organization. That was shortly before Wilson transferred to the University of Wisconsin, the summer before his senior season.
"We were anticipating it all day, making sure he was good in the cage and our BP sessions," Giancarlo Stanton said. "It was cool to see."
Though Wilson has attended two Spring Trainings with the Rangers during his NFL career, he never appeared in a Cactus League game. His most recent at-bat prior to Friday thus came on June 25, 2011, when he grounded into a double play against current Yankees left-hander Chasen Shreve, who was then pitching for Class A Rome in the Braves' system.
"I remember playing against him. I knew I faced him!" Shreve said. "I didn't know that's what happened; that's funny. I knew he played football and knew he was leaving to play football, but I didn't know what he was going to turn into."
A fourth-round Draft pick by the Rockies in 2010, Wilson hit .229/.354/.356 with five homers, 26 RBIs, 58 runs scored, 118 strikeouts and 51 walks in 379 Minor League plate appearances from 2010-11.
Wilson has been in camp since Monday, participating in batting practice and fielding drills, and is expected to leave on Sunday morning. The plan to have Wilson step to the plate developed over the last 24 hours, as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider spoke with the Yankees.
"I knew last night we were going to plan on doing it," manager Aaron Boone said. "He walked straight into my office this morning with a smile on his face, like, 'Yeah, let's do this.' … 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."
Wilson said that during his time in camp, he spoke frequently with players about the focus and determination that is necessary to succeed at the highest levels in pro sports, as well as tips for effective physical training. And though Wilson will soon depart for his "real" job, he plans to continue cheering his new teammates on from afar.
"Ultimately, I got to meet some great competitive guys that I relate to and I got to meet some guys that I can be friends with a long, long time," Wilson said. "You can feel there's a sense of greatness here. I really believe that. So I'm excited to watch and feel like I'm a part of the family."