The Seahawks' driving force? Try baseball
Seattle's Super Bowl roster boasts a slew of hardball talent
PHOENIX -- Just so you know, there are several ties between the game of baseball and why the Seattle Seahawks are a victory away from consecutive Super Bowl titles.
You probably know about Russell Wilson, the second baseman moonlighting as the starting quarterback for the Seahawks. He was drafted by the Orioles after high school and by the Rockies in college. He even spent part of the month following last year's title taking infield grounders at the Rangers' spring camp.
"Well, behind me, Russell is the second-best baseball player on the team," said Bryan Walters, who you probably don't know.
Walters wasn't laughing after his comment, by the way. He is a backup wide receiver for the Seahawks, and he also returns punts. No question, he was a splendid football player at his Seattle-area high school, and he was so proficient at basketball that he retained enough of his preps skills to spend this summer besting former NBA sharpshooter Steve Kerr in a shooting contest.
As for golf, Walters is also pretty good, and he is seeking to become pretty great, even now. Consider this: Not only is the Super Bowl in Arizona this week, but so is the Waste Management Phoenix Open, featuring Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Walters couldn't huddle with those golfing icons between Super Bowl practices and media sessions, but he did get a few tips on driving, chipping and putting from noted swing coach Rick Smith.
"Tell him you're also a great tennis player," said a Seahawks assistant coach, passing by Walters at the team hotel. Walters nodded, but he wished to continue his baseball thoughts. "As sweet of a swing as Russell has, I think I'd be a better baseball player than he would be."
This time, Walters laughed.
Walters and the rest of the Seahawks have seen Wilson's baseball skills on a personal level. All you need to know is that to spur competitiveness in different ways, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll begins some practices with a basketball contest, and he ends others with a home run derby.
The latter is the most popular.
There is the yearly home run derby that punctuates the close of the Seahawks' training camp on the grass fields of Renton, Wash. Then there are the sporadic home run derbies during the regular season. They occur on the artificial surface of the Seahawks' indoor practice facility that morphs into a poor man's version of nearby Safeco Field.
Nearly everybody for the Seahawks participates, ranging from the baseball savvy Wilson and Walters to Tony McDaniel, who doesn't exactly have the frame of Willie Mays at 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds.
"I can hit pretty good, believe it or not," said McDaniel, grinning, before admitting that he is more proficient at crushing running backs as a defensive tackle. The spirit of the home run derby just helps him to do so.
Added McDaniel: "To have us involved with something like [a home run derby] is just an amazing idea from Pete, because it's a way to get us thinking about competing at an even higher level. The more we compete at anything, the more it gives us a competing mentality, which applies to football."
So, with Walters sitting across the way, I just had to ask McDaniel: Is Bryan really as impressive as he says he is regarding baseball?
"I've never seen him field, but as for hitting, he's good, and surprisingly, [All Pro cornerback] Richard Sherman has a nice swing," McDaniel said. "But when it comes to our baseball competition, Russell is pretty much whipping everybody."
It figures, because baseball remains in Wilson's soul despite his considerable success in pro football. No NFL quarterback ever has managed more victories in his first three seasons than Wilson's 40. His record against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks is 10-0. Plus, at 26, he is on the verge of grabbing his second Super Bowl ring after just three years as a starter. He helped the Seahawks reach this year's game against the Patriots after he led them to a miracle finish at home against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Still, Wilson was a shortstop who batted .467 during his senior year in high school on the way to North Carolina State. He switched to second base after he was drafted by the Rockies. He later spent the summers of 2010 and '11 in their farm system before determining he likely wouldn't join the ranks of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson as a dual star in baseball and football.
Not that Wilson's teammates believe he couldn't.
"You know, I don't think there is anything that guy could do that he wouldn't be highly successful at," said Seahawks offensive tackle Russell Okung. "I know he always has been determined, and I know he always has been willing to take that next step. He's a guy who puts his hard hat on, and then he has great belief. That's great belief in himself.
"If Russell played baseball on a consistent basis, I'm sure he'd be an All-Star. He wouldn't be out there just trying to be a normal guy. Football is his priority, but he likes to talk to us about baseball."
Wilson actually goes further than that. Said Okung, "Over the years, he's taken us to about three or four baseball games."
But it's not as if the Seahawks need to see the hometown Mariners to get a feel for our National Pastime. They could just wait for those times when they all swing for the fences -- at the friendly confines of one of their very own practice fields.