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Could Russell Wilson’s Baseball Days Be Numbered?

May 24, 2011

This afternoon, Joe Schad and Heather Dinich of ESPN both confirmed Russell Wilson was visiting Auburn University on what Schad called "a job interview."

(Side note: Dinich made this bold proclamation in her post — "Wisconsin would be a better fit [than Auburn] for Wilson, as it's a pro-style offense…" Right. Because he spent so much time under center last year and…oh, nevermind.)

We knew there were hints and talks that Russell returning to football MIGHT be a possibility, but if he's taking visits to Auburn and Wisconsin—in the midst of a baseball season, mind you—it sounds like he's extremely serious about playing football next year.

In fact, I would say if he is going to the trouble of taking a visit on the one day he has off between an eight-game home stand and a 14-game road/home stretch, the percentages of Wilson playing college football next year probably just shot up into the high 90s.

So, is it fair to ask: Are Russell Wilson's baseball playing days coming to a close?

Why would they be, you ask?

Well, despite several public incidents where the topic of Russell's football flirtation has come up—from his release from State, his exploration into the Wisconsin situation and the schedule visits—the Rockies management has yet to come forth and give their blessing for Wilson to play out his football eligibility.

If anything, they've seemed off-put by the notion. In the one instance I can recall where anyone from the Rockies organization has commented on the situation, here's what was said at the beginning of the month. 

 

“He has not once come to us and expressed an interest in playing football this year,” Marc Gustafson, the Rockies’ senior director of player development, told the paper. “It is not an issue between the Rockies and Russell. It has never been brought to our attention.”

After his selection by the Rockies, Wilson was given a $250,000 signing bonus by the club.  Gustafson intimated that Wilson would be contractually obligated to return a portion of that bonus if he ultimately decides to head back to school and use his final season of eligibility.

“When you have a football/baseball player or a baseball/football player, there are details in the contract that if you do pursue football, there might be some money that may have to be returned,” he said. “But it’s not an issue. It has not been brought up.

“Is there an option (to play football) that’s open? It might be. But there has been no indication to us about any football activity, whatsoever. His total focus is on baseball.”

Do Gustafson's words really sound like those representative of a team open to the idea of Wilson playing both sports? Not to me.

Considering this is the only thing we've heard to this point on the matter, I think the overall silence from the Rockies organization is quite telling. Wilson is not your average single-A prospect trying to make his way up the baseball ladder, and since they've already invested a quarter-of-a-million dollars into him, I would think they have a very strong opinion on the matter behind closed doors. For now, they seem content not addressing it publicly.

But at some point in the near future, they will have to.

Given the Rockies are ignoring the elephant in the room, and given Wilson's struggles at the plate (he's struck out in nearly half of his plate appearances), could Wilson be close to leaving the Rockies and decide to focus on football?

But why can't he just do what he did last season, you ask.

He's contractually obligated to appear in uniform for the Tourists through the final game of the season on September 5th, and if he were to do so, he would miss not only all of fall practice but also the first game of both Auburn and Wisconsin. 

Would Auburn or Wisconsin be willing to bring in a guy AFTER the season's begun? As great as Russell is, it's an awful lot to ask a quarterback to learn a new playbook and gel with his new teammates in a matter of days. If both schools insist on Wilson making fall practice, would Russell opt to forgo the final portion of the baseball schedule?

And what of his current employer? Would the Rockies be comfortable allowing a prospect in clear need of coaching and reps in the cage to once again skip off-season work only to get pummeled on the football field? Could an exasperated Rockies organization go so far as to cut their losses and release Wilson for good if he insisted on playing football?

I don't know. I can tell you Joe Schad seems pretty convinced Wilson is hellbent on playing football this year, and as more news comes out the more I think he might be right.

But I just can't envision a scenario where the Rockies organization allows Russell to put himself further behind schedule in his development, not to mention at tremendous risk of serious, career-ending injury.

Perhaps if Wilson was lighting the world on fire at the plate and destined for a quick ascension up the baseball ranks, they might be willing to wait one more year.

I think a day is coming very soon, however, where the Rockies will put their foot down and tell Wilson he needs to choose. If I had to guess right now which one he'd choose in that scenario, based on today's news, I'd say he'd make the very tough call to walk away from the Rockies and conclude his baseball career.

 

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