TAMPA, Fla. -- After key victories last season, Aaron Judge frequently reached into his locker and scanned his text messages, reading words of encouragement from Russell Wilson. The world may recognize the NFL's Seattle Seahawks star as a Super Bowl-champion quarterback, but the Yankees were proud to have called him
TAMPA, Fla. -- After key victories last season, Aaron Judge frequently reached into his locker and scanned his text messages, reading words of encouragement from Russell Wilson. The world may recognize the NFL's Seattle Seahawks star as a Super Bowl-champion quarterback, but the Yankees were proud to have called him their teammate for a week of Spring Training.
"Man, he was going 110 percent around the bases and in the cage taking hacks," Judge said. "He wants to be perfect in every single thing. I was like, 'Hey man, you're a quarterback. You ain't a baseball player! Just take it easy.' But that's how he is, and how he prepares. He wants to prepare like he's going in the game. That's how professionals do it."
Wilson has returned for a reprise performance this weekend, as the occasional Bombers infielder will be in uniform wearing a No. 73 jersey. Though manager Aaron Boone granted Wilson a Grapefruit League at-bat last year, in which he struck out swinging against Braves left-hander Max Fried, Wilson said that he will be content to watch these games from the dugout.
"I've been watching Spring Training clips online," Wilson said. "I definitely pay attention. I grew up a Yankees fan, watching [Derek] Jeter and the guys playing my whole life. I stay in touch with Aaron and some of the other guys, as well. It's really important to me to stay in touch with the fellas and watch the games and all their success. Hopefully they can win a World Series this year."
Though his greatest success came on the gridiron, the 30-year-old Wilson said that baseball was his first love. A fourth-round Draft pick of 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.
As an NFL player, he attended two Spring Trainings with the Rangers before his rights were traded to the Yankees last February.
"I don't want to be a distraction," Wilson said. "I got my hacks last year. My first swing, I was going for the fences. It didn't work out like I wanted it to, but it was still a great experience. Just to have the honor to wear the pinstripes is really why I'm here."
Judge said that he has maintained a relationship with Wilson, and they occasionally swap texts after Seahawks games. As teammates last spring, Judge said that he was most impressed by Wilson's preparation, which he attempted to apply to his own performance.
"When you're the quarterback of an NFL team, taking them to a Super Bowl win, you've got to be prepared each and every single day," Judge said. "You can't slack off at all because you're the leader of the team and people look toward you to lead them. You've got to be on top of your game. That's what I witnessed."
A regulation NFL football appeared in Judge's locker a few days ago, but Wilson said he would be hesitant to throw any passes to the slugger, who starred as a wide receiver and defensive end during his high school days in Linden, Calif.
"I don't want him running too fast, 10 days away [from the end of Spring Training]," Wilson said. "I was telling him after BP, he reminds me exactly of Jimmy Graham; same demeanor, same focus. Great human being, interacts with people really well, amazing talent, both the same size. He could play tight end [in the NFL] if he wanted to."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.