TAMPA, Fla. — Russell Wilson’s childhood visions became a reality Monday as he reported to the New York Yankees‘ spring training facility, and donned the pinstripes for the first time.
The Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks quarterback will be spending the next five days with the Yankees following a trade last week that sent him from the Texas Rangers’ organization to New York’s.
Perhaps the highlight of Wilson’s arrival came when Yankees batting practice Group 2 took center stage. Wilson joined Yankees sluggers Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird for a few rounds of live hitting. Unofficially, Stanton paced the group with 15 total home runs, while Judge had 10 and Bird had eight. Wilson got on the home-run leaderboard, too, eclipsing Sanchez by one with six long balls.
Although he took some soft toss over the weekend, Wilson, with his 31-ounce Louisville Slugger that had his name printed on it, said this was his first batting practice session in a while.
“This is what I’ve known my whole life,” Wilson said. “Now, I couldn’t just step on a basketball court. I wouldn’t be good at basketball, but baseball, it’s like riding a bike once you get back out there for me. It’s not an easy sport, though. It’s very, very difficult.”
Difficult or not, Wilson is enjoying being back around baseball.
“It’s definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” Wilson said about putting on a Yankees jersey for the first time, with a nod to Babe Ruth. “I tried to get No. 3, but I think somebody had it already.
“Ever since I was a young kid I always dreamed to be a Yankee. I always watched them. My favorite player was Derek Jeter growing up, watching him, his professionalism and how he played.”
Wilson’s late father, Harrison Wilson III, was a lifelong Yankees fan. Before he died in 2010 following complications related to diabetes, the elder Wilson hoped his multi-sport-playing son might one day play for his favorite team.
“I always told my dad I’d be a New York Yankee, and now I’m here,” Wilson said.
Although Wilson is officially on the Yankees’ spring training roster, he won’t be playing in any games. Manager Aaron Boone has stressed that Wilson’s primary duty is to simply enjoy himself.
Before stepping into the cage, Wilson fielded ground balls at second base. In addition to making routine throws to first base, he also worked on his double-play pivots with shortstop Didi Gregorius. Wilson told Gregorius it was his first time taking ground balls in a year and a half.
“I told him it does not look like it,” Gregorius said. “He did not look rusty at all.”
Despite the circus-like atmosphere Wilson’s arrival at Steinbrenner Field has created, he told reporters in a news conference that his appearance here was sincere.
“Some people always, for me, get confused on ‘is this just a stunt’ or whatever. They don’t know me. If you really know me, baseball’s been part of my blood,” Wilson said. “It’s been a part of who I am and where I’ve come from and what I’ve done. When you see me make plays on the football field, a lot of that’s a direct correlation to baseball.”
Although he wants his players to pick Wilson’s brain about leadership, Boone has kept his charges to Wilson simple.
“I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to address this or do that. I want him to kind of come in and just kind of be himself, and get to know us and enjoy himself. A lot of our guys will benefit from him being in camp. It’s exciting to see how excited he is about being here.”
Yankees like Oregon-born Seahawks fan Brandon Drury are ready to see how this week unfolds.
“The guy’s a winner,” Drury said. “Whether it’s baseball or off-the-field stuff. Even mental stuff. … I know he’s really smart and he studies the game and he cares.”
Wilson, who played college baseball at North Carolina State, was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies. The Rangers acquired him from Colorado in 2013. Wilson spent parts of two seasons playing Class A ball in the Rockies’ organization before he was selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by Seattle.
“I’m going to immerse myself in everything that they’re doing,” Wilson said of the Yankees. “I want to learn as much as I can and also compete as much as I can.”
ESPN’s Jenna Laine and Jon Scher contributed to this report.