SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Nate Adcock, a 26-year-old non-roster right-handed pitcher considered a long shot to make the Texas Rangers this spring, was eating breakfast in the clubhouse when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson asked if he could join him.
For 10 or 15 minutes, Adcock and 25-year-old catcher Brett Nicholas, invited to big league camp after a solid Double-A season, peppered Wilson with questions.
“We just wanted to be a sponge and soak it all in,” Adcock said. “He was telling us about his day and that he gets in at 5:45 in the morning and doesn’t leave until 7 [p.m.]. He puts in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours.
“If a championship-caliber quarterback, and one our age, puts that kind of work in, you probably need to do the same thing. I’m not saying I don’t work hard, but there’s always more you can do.”
That’s the reason the Rangers selected Wilson in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. They paid $12,000 to grab him from the Colorado Rockies.
The investment was for days like Monday.
After breakfast, Wilson stretched his arm and joined manager Ron Washington for the daily extra infield practice. Tucked back on a half-field, with plenty of cameras clicking, Wilson listened intently as Washington put him through a variety of individual infield drills.
“He surprised me for not being out on the baseball field for a while,” Washington said. “I might have burned his legs up a little bit, but he made it through all the drills and did a fantastic job. He’s got tremendous aptitude. That’s why he is who he is. You give him something and he knows how to apply it.”
Wilson stretched with the team, chatting with regulars Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. He then took grounders with the rest of the infielders as part of the team fundamental drills. Several hundred fans, many of them dressed in Seahawks colors and a few of them with handmade signs thanking him for the Super Bowl victory, cheered as he scooped up balls and practiced flips to second base to start double plays and throws to first to finish them. Wilson watched as some of the club’s players in the lineup for today’s game took batting practice.
He’s expected to be in uniform and watch from the dugout during the club’s Cactus League game with the Cleveland Indians and then talk to the media. He’ll also spend some time with some of the club’s minor leaguers and then will eat a private dinner with some of the team’s core players.
Texas knew when it drafted Wilson that it was taking a player who likely wasn't going to play both sports, or give up his job as an NFL quarterback to play baseball again. But they hoped he would want to come to spring training. They wanted a young player -- Wilson is 25 -- who was at the top of his profession to talk with the club’s prospects about what it takes to be successful.
“The type of person he is, the type of makeup he has, the focus, the work ethic -- those are things that we preach every day as an organization and this guy lives it,” assistant general manager A.J. Preller said. “We wanted that associated with our people and our club.”
Wilson’s stay started Sunday night. He was a guest of honor at the Rangers’ organizational dinner, an annual get-together during spring training. For 20 minutes, Wilson (dressed in a silver suit despite assurances that it was a business-casual affair) answered questions from Rangers broadcaster Matt Hicks, who dived into Wilson’s past, his attention to detail and his goals.
They sat on bar stools on a heated outdoor patio at a Phoenix-area J.W. Marriott and had a conversation in front of a little more than 300 folks. Nearly everybody associated with the team, including players, coaches, ownership and even some sponsors and suite-holders, got a chance to hear what Wilson had to say. They came away impressed by what he has done and how he has gone about it in such a short period of time.
“He’s only 25 years old and he’s already at the top of his profession, but he’s got enough maturity, well beyond most, that he’s always learning and striving to get better,” Hicks said. “He’s so competitive that he said if someone gets on a treadmill beside him, he won’t let them run as long or as hard as he is. That was my big takeaway from the evening.”
Ask others who attended and you’ll likely get different answers that hone in on the same theme: Wilson doesn’t want anyone to outwork him. And he’s driven to be the best.
“He was asked, 'Who motivates you?' " said outfielder Michael Choice, one year younger than Wilson and one of the Rangers' top prospects. “He said he really had that self-motivation to always get better and be a great athlete and a person. I want to apply that to what I’m doing. He has the whole package. It was worth hearing.”
Wilson was once in a minor league clubhouse in spring training in 2011, trying to make his way in professional baseball. He was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 by the Rockies and signed for $200,000. He had to return part of that bonus when he signed with the Seahawks a few years ago.
Wilson hit .229 with five homers and had 19 stolen bases in parts of two Class A seasons in 2010 and 2011. Several scouts who watched Wilson in college and in the minors said his athleticism made him a solid, versatile defender, but that he didn’t get enough at-bats to get better offensively, struggling to find consistency and understand pitch recognition.
Near the end of the 2011 season, Wilson opted to go to Wisconsin, where his skills made him a draft pick, eventually taken in the third round by the Seahawks in 2012. Wilson led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title last month, throwing for 206 yards on 18-of-25 passing with two touchdowns in Super Bowl XLVIII, a 43-8 crushing of the Denver Broncos.
That win and the fame that came with it didn’t stop Wilson from wanting to go to spring training, at least for a day. Wilson made it clear at Sunday’s dinner that he planned on getting as much out of his stay in Arizona as the Rangers hoped to get out of him.
“He’s a guy that has his priorities in order,” right fielder Alex Rios said. “He knows what he wants to do and believes in what he does. It gives you a better chance to perform. I think all of us got something out of talking to him. He’s an inspiration. He’s dedicated and determined. He wants to be the best. That’s what everyone should want.”