M’s Hicks, Gillheeney remember playing baseball with Wilson

PEORIA, Ariz. — John Hicks still knows the scouting report. The former Virginia catcher remembers that when Russell Wilson was at the plate he would try and hit the ball back up the middle. And when Wilson was on the mound at North Carolina State, he liked to throw his slider.

It’s still a little surreal for Hicks, a catcher in the Seattle Mariners system, to know the guy he played against in college, and played alongside growing up in Richmond, Va., is a Super Bowl champion quarterback. Same goes for Seattle pitcher James Gillheeney, who played baseball with Wilson at N.C. State.

“Just sitting back and thinking a few years back we were just hanging out. He used to come over to the house and just hang out. My roommate and myself would cut his hair every week,” Gillheeney said. “Just sitting there watching him on that kind of stage and thinking about how he used to be one of the guys just hanging out watching TV or what have you, it was definitely a really cool feeling. Knowing somebody that has already accomplished that much in two years I couldn’t be happier for him and it couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”

Today, Wilson’s past will be revisited as the Texas Rangers prospect makes a visit to their camp in Surprise, Ariz., that will be the buzz of the Cactus League.

The attention on the Rangers was one thing when they selected Wilson in the Class AAA portion of baseball’s draft at the winter meetings in December. It’s another when he makes the trip to Arizona a month and a day after leading the Seahawks to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history and becoming a championship quarterback in just his second season in the NFL.

Don’t worry, Seahawks fans. The Rangers are not about to put Wilson into Monday’s game let him get buzzed by 90 mph fastballs even though he’ll be in uniform and in the dugout for the matchup with Cleveland. Wilson may take part in some of the Rangers’ pregame workout, but that’s it.

“Our intentions are to bring him in and see if there’s anything he can say that may help anyone around here that has on a baseball uniform,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “This guy is a winner. He has tremendous character. He has attitude and undoubtedly has a lot of commitment to what he does. That’s what we’re about and we just want him to feel comfortable.”

For a while, it appeared Wilson’s best chance at being a professional athlete would come on the baseball field. Because of concerns about his height, the quarterback/middle infielder jumped at his chance to play two seasons professionally in Colorado’s minor league system after being drafted by the Rockies. He played in 93 games over two seasons but never above the Class A level in 2010 and 2011.

Even during Super Bowl week, Wilson was referencing his baseball past.

“Everybody was telling me I was going to be a big league second baseman. I was the prototypical 5-11, 205-pound second baseman. I could run, I could hit, I could steal bases. I could do all those things,” Wilson said on Jan. 29. “I had this itch to play the game of football. I believed that I could go to the Super Bowl and win multiple Super Bowls and do all of those things.”

Hicks and Wilson played on the same traveling baseball team in the Richmond area in their early teen years. Hicks noted at the time Wilson was the tallest player on the team. He was also the best player.

“He was a specimen honestly. He could throw harder than pretty much anybody on the team. He was fast. He was just a great athlete,” Hicks said. “He played everywhere on the field. He was a really good pitcher. He pitched for us a lot. He even caught a little bit, played all over the field. You could tell at that age he was going to be a really good athlete.”

Hicks got a chance to face Wilson the pitcher when the duo were playing baseball in the ACC. Gillheeney said he always felt comfortable with Wilson playing behind him in the infield, even if he was always playing catch up because of his football obligations in the fall.

“He was always kind of a step behind in baseball, not because of his ability but because he had to spend his time in the fall doing football while the rest of us were playing fall ball. I wouldn’t say he started from scratch in the spring but he was definitely still working to be at the level he wanted to play at,” Gillheeney said. “But he always found his way into the lineup, he always worked as hard as he could.”

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