PEELER: Wilson Excited About Baseball-Only Spring
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – As a senior at Richmond's Collegiate High School, Russell Wilson felt comfortable on the mound and playing shortstop. And he was one of the best prep players in the state of Virginia.
He also happened to be one of the best football players in the area and he was hoping to find a college where he could play both.
NC State fans know the rest of his story by now. He arrived in Raleigh nearly four years ago, sat out his first season of football and was a utility player for a Wolfpack baseball team that came within one win of making it to the College World Series.
He found success on the football field in his first season, becoming the only freshman in ACC history to win first-team All-ACC quarterback honors. But, just before halftime of the team's post-season bowl game, Wilson suffered a knee injury that had a big impact on his baseball season.
He missed all of preseason practice and most of the February and March schedule. He struggled to find his rhythm at the plate all season, especially when he went back and forth between baseball and spring football practice.
So this spring, as has long been planned, Wilson is concentrating solely on baseball, which opens its season this weekend vs. La Salle. Game times are 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday, and 1 p.m. on Sunday. When the season opener beginsFriday afternoon at NC State's Doak Field at Dail Park, Wilson could be the Wolfpack's starting shortstop. And, in a new twist, he could come out of the bullpen to throw a few innings of relief.
Regardless of exactly where, Wilson plans to be on the baseball field all spring.
"I'm trying to help the team the best I can," Wilson said. "I'm trying to get better as a baseball player. I think I have definitely done that so far. I just have to keep working."
He's been in a battle all spring with freshmen Chris Diaz and Matt Bergquist for the starting shortstop job. The rest of the infield is settled and experienced, with junior Harold Riggins at first, senior Dallas Poulk at second base and sophomore Andrew Ciencin at third base.
"I thought times last week Russell was playing really well at shortstop, but this week Burgquist looks really good," said NC State baseball coach Elliott Avent. "It's something we will keep looking at."
But, Avent said, spending the spring with baseball will be a great benefit to Wilson's statistics at the plate. So far, going back and forth between baseball and football, Wilson has been inconsistent on offense, especially when wearing a knee brace.
Last year, in 27 games, Wilson hit .236 with three extra base hits. As a freshman, in 32 games, Wilson hit .296 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
"Russell is such a great athlete that he makes up ground fast," Avent said. "His work ethic is second to very few people. The guy sees himself in places most people wish themselves to be. Russell works his way there."
The new twist, of course, is Wilson's opportunity to pitch. Avent knew early on that Wilson had the arm strength to be an excellent pitcher. Football fans who have seen him zip the ball down field to receivers Jarvis Williams, Owen Spencer and Darrell Davis know it as well.
"All you have to do is play catch with him a few times to know how hard he can throw the ball," said Avent. " I had to do that the first couple of seasons when no one else was around and he wanted to work on baseball.
"He has all the things you want in pitching. He knows what to do with the ball. We decided to give him that chance. He wanted to do whatever he could to get on the field. We didn't really know what was going to happen with him as a position player, so we now have a dual way of getting him on the field."
Avent was impressed with the inning scrimmage Wilson pitched on Tuesday afternoon. He's not sure when Wilson will make his first appearance, but he has confidence that he can get outs.
Typically coy, Wilson wouldn't reveal much about his pitching strength, though he says he can get outs with his fastball and by frequently changing speeds. But his out-pitch?
"You'll have to come see us play to see what that is," Wilson said.
(Wilson is already a star football quarterback, baseball infielder and pitcher, blogger. Looks like he wants to add some marketing and ticket sales experience to his resume as well.)
Wilson isn't going to be distant from football this spring, but, unlike years past, it won't get equal attention with baseball. He hopes and expects that rising sophomore Mike Glennon excels with more repetitions when spring practice begins on March 9.
"Obviously, not having the repetitions in football might hurt me a little bit, but mentally, I don't think it will hurt me at all," Wilson said. "Baseball, I need to be out here, to get some games in, to get some repetitions in, just keep working and give myself a fair chance.
"I just want to play hard everyday. I am not worried about the scouts, I am not worried about what other people think. I am just coming out here to play hard every day and show people I have talent."
Football coach Tom O'Brien, during his 2010 signing day press conference, said that he looks forward to seeing Glennon improve throughout the spring.
"Mike will have a lot of opportunity," O'Brien said. "It will be good for Mike. He can certainly make the fall interesting if he has a great spring."
For Wilson, he is excited about the prospect of spending the spring with baseball, primarily because he's completely healthy and ready to play.
"I feel 100 percent," Wilson said. "I'm running well and moving quick. I feel really good."
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.