I caught up to Addison Russell, in the A's clubhouse, on March 2nd. True to his reputation, Russell was polite and soft-spoken, and he -- refreshingly -- lacked the polish of veteran players who have conducted hundreds, if not thousands, of interviews. My focus for this interview was less baseball itself, and more the remarkable year it has been for a kid who, at this time last year, was not quite yet getting ready for the prom.
Nico: This last year, I'm just imagining has gotta be such a whirlwind with school, baseball, the prom, the draft -- what has been like, would you say, to be you this last year?
Russell: Just about 9 months ago I was wrapping up my high school baseball season, and 9 months to now I'm here with big league guys and spring training. It's a great experience, and I'm just trying to soak everything in. I want to meet a whole bunch of people from the organization -- I want to meet all the coaches, all the managers. I got to meet the GMs -- it's really great experience. Being so young, it's just an honor to be here and it's been great so far.
Nico: What are the things that you do learn, just being able to soak up this camp. Like, what specifically have you been able to take in?
Russell: Just general knowledge of everyday baseball: Work ethic stuff, whenever you hear something like "time to get cracking, we have to go out and take our early-work BP, go field some ground balls early in the morning," just getting your repetitions in so you can be that much better at game time.
Nico: When you were younger, imagining being in a big league clubhouse, being in a big league camp, was it similar or was it really different? Because as I'm taking in the experience here (in the clubhouse), it just seems like there's so much going on, so much on your plate.
Russell: Yeah, yeah, whenever I was a kid I thought it was just going to be playing games on TV. What most people don't see is how much hard work and mental stability comes with being a professional baseball player.
Nico: So what prepared you for that? Going back to your childhood, to your upbringing, everything that's gotten you to where you are today, how do you develop that work ethic and attitude?
Russell: After my 9th grade year of high school baseball, I had the idea I kind of want to do this for a living, so I just started preparing myself there. And my whole life, my parents told me I'm gonna do great things. Sometimes I thought they were just saying that, but they were right because they knew what kind of player I was, they knew what kind of person I was, and throughout high school I had to go through a whole bunch of showcases all on my own -- I took flights on my own at age 14-15 years old, just going to showcases to showcase my talent so I could be in this situation right now. So I've kind of prepared myself, and my parents kind of prepared me ever since I was around 14-15 years old.
Nico: And in middle school -- and maybe I ask this partly because in my "day job" I'm a middle school teacher and there's all sorts of personality types, and kids figuring out who they are -- which kid were you in middle school? Like, how would you describe yourself?
Russell: Well, I was somewhat quiet. Then again I was kind of popular, because everyone knew me for my athletic ability. I wasn't the type of person to reach out and try to get to know someone. I was always a laid back kid, a soft-spoken kid. Just going through the changes right now (note: I assume he's not referring to puberty), I'm developing into a kind of person kinda like, "Hey, what's your name..?" So, it's pretty cool to look back and see that just about 8 years ago I was just some quiet kid and now I'm pretty outgoing and outspoken now -- it's just great to see that.
Nico: I can imagine that being thrust in the spotlight -- I mean, you had never met me 5 minutes ago and here we are chatting -- it just seems like there's so much going on where you have to meet people and be under the microscope. Is that unnatural for you?
Russell: I guess it was in high school, because really I wasn't recognized for my talents on that stage. But progressing through high school, I was somewhat under the microscope, I had to keep my nose clean, I had to make sure I was keeping my head focused on and off the baseball field. So it's nothing new to me. It's just knowing what's right and what's wrong. And being able to perform under that pressure: That's the kind of stuff I kind of live for -- that just makes it fun for me.
Nico: So going back to draft day, I'm sure you had a sense you were probably going to be a fairly high draft pick, but how much did you know, or think, ahead of time as far as where you might be drafted and who might be interested in drafting you?
Russell: I honestly had no clue. I was hoping I would get picked in the first round - it's every kid's dream to be picked in the first round, a top pick. But really I had no idea. I was hoping I was going to be a top 15, and that's what happened, and the cards fell where they fell, and I was just ecstatic. And I had family and friends there to help me, and it was just an awesome experience to get drafted by the Oakland A's.
Nico: Do you have a good "draft day story"? That's the day you're sitting by the phone, where you're watching to see what happens...What was that day like?
Russell: Going up to the draft day I was talking to Bill Caudill, a guy I work that with in Forest. And he's like, "Look, Addy, if your name is not called today you know that there's always school, and you know that you can always put in the hard work and get drafted your Junior year. And I was like, "Yeah, Bill, but I really wanna play. But then again I really do want to go to school." So I was about 50/50, and he said, "Also it might be a team you may have never even talked to, or spoken to, or even seen at a game." So I was just going in there with a blind eye -- and the same day as draft day, I had a graduation party and brought a whole bunch of friends, and family, and a whole bunch of relatives, and we sat down and watched the draft. And as the first round's going through, and pick after pick, I became more antsy and more nervous. And whenever they said, "11th pick, the Oakland A's choose...Addison Russell," the whole house was just shaking. It was just a great experience.
Nico: I mean I can imagine you're sitting there going, "Don't make me look stupid. If my name isn't called, I've got all these people here!"
Russell: Yeah, yeah, definitely true! That was always in the back of my mind. But I believe that God had a big part to do with it.
Nico: So, just a couple baseball questions. As you look at trying to develop into the best player you can, as quickly as you can, what are the areas of your own game you're most self-critical about, that you want to work on in these next months?
Russell: Just every part. I want to get faster, I want to get stronger, I want to slow the game down. I just want to go through a day, I want to go through the weeks, being consistent with hitting, fielding, running, throwing. I'm just trying to get to where I can be consistent more often.
Nico: Right now, would you describe yourself as someone whose hitting is ahead of their defense, defense ahead of their hitting? Which area do you feel like you're farther along?
Russell: To me, I was always told that I was pretty good at both. I'm just trying to really establish what kind of player I am right now: If I'm more of a defense kind of guy, if I'm more of a power kind of guy in the lineup. So I'm just trying to find out what kind of ballplayer I am right now.
Nico: We look forward to finding out! ;-)
The youngest player in any major league camp, Russell has hardly been daunted so far: He is 4 for 12 in the Cactus League and as a side note, about an hour after our interview I was watching infield practice and noticed one player whose arm at SS caught my eye. It was Russell.