ASHEVILLE — The baseball game had ended, the Asheville Tourists had won and an N.C. State quarterback stood among friends outside the Tourists' clubhouse at McCormick Field.
Tyler Brosius was waiting for Russell Wilson.
Brosius, from Waynesville, is expected to be the Wolfpack's backup quarterback next season. Wilson, the Wolfpack's star quarterback the past three seasons, is the Tourists' second baseman and at the start of what he firmly believes can be a long, successful professional baseball career.
For a few minutes Thursday night, Wilson chatted with Brosius and Ryan Cheek, a Wolfpack linebacker. They talked about spring football, about the Pack's spring game. Nothing was said about next season or about Wilson's plans.
A few laughs, some quick handshakes, and Brosius and Cheek were on their way.
"It's been a month since I threw a football," Wilson said earlier in the day.
Wilson paused to autograph a few baseball cards, as he did before the game, then popped back into the clubhouse. The Tourists had beaten the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws 5-4 in the South Atlantic League game. Wilson reached base twice but didn't have a hit. He struck out twice, both on called third strikes, as his batting average dipped to .162.
"It's a game of ups and downs," Wilson said. "You've got to roll with them and keep getting better. I think I'm going to be great player, but I have to take it one day at a time."
Friday morning, Wilson again was asked to say hello. An 11-year-old boy had broken a leg in a dirt-bike accident. The diehard N.C. State fan, Ethan Jeffries, hoped Wilson might drop by his hospital room. Assistant general manager Chris Smith arranged the visit.
"I said, 'Of course,' " Wilson said. "I was excited to see him and hopefully can be a blessing in that young man's life."
As Wilson entered Mission Hospital, a man who was leaving did a double-take and said, "Go Pack!" Wilson didn't appear to hear him, though, and soon was bedside in the Trauma Care Unit, where Jeffries had a Wolfpack pennant and N.C. State caps in his room.
Jeffries, his left leg raised, looked up at Wilson, a bit starstruck. Finally, he was able to softly ask a question.
"Why are you playing baseball instead of football?" he said.
Wilson smiled. It's a question he has been asked often.
The Tourists and McCormick Field represent minor-league baseball in its purest sense. It's Class A ball, where players mostly are young and eager to learn and managers and coaches are patient and willing to teach and develop.
McCormick Field, cut into a hillside near downtown, has had baseball since 1924 - "Where memories are made," one banner read - and such luminaries as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb and Jackie Robinson have played on its diamond. And not just baseball stars. It's said Charlie Justice once bounded down the hills to field kickoffs and ran to football glory at McCormick in high school before becoming the immortal "Choo Choo" at North Carolina.
"It's a great place to play. The fans are great," Wilson said.
The Tourists are affiliated with the Colorado Rockies, the National League team that made Wilson a fourth-round draft pick in 2010. Wilson signed with the Rockies in June, with one contract provision that he could play college football.
Wilson was sent to the Tri-City Dust Devils, playing 32 games and hitting .230 for the Rockies' short-season Class A team in Pasco, Wash. Hardly an auspicious start. Soon, he was back at N.C. State, shaking off some football rust to lead the Pack to a 9-4 season and a Champs Sports Bowl victory.
Wilson, 22, spent spring training with the Rockies this year in Scottsdale, Ariz., before being assigned to the Tourists. Also sent to Asheville was another former ACC quarterback, Kyle Parker of Clemson, an outfielder and a first-round pick by the Rockles in 2010.
Parker became the first NCAA Division I athlete to pass for 20 touchdowns and hit 20 home runs in a season in 2009-10, helping the Tigers reach the College World Series. He did not agree on a contract with the Rockies until August, just before the signing deadline - Parker's camp had wanted more for a baseball-only contract than the $2.25 million the Rockies were willing to give - and was allowed to play football.
"When I got drafted, there was a number in my head, and I knew if I got that much money I would not have had the 'what-if' in my mind of going back and playing football," Parker said. Parker and Wilson faced off last fall, the host Tigers winning 14-13.
Parker, with a sly grin, also mentioned facing Wilson in baseball when Wilson briefly pitched for the Pack.
"One time, he walked me with the bases loaded," Parker said.
Parker, rated the Rockies' sixth-best prospect by Baseball America, has a natural, fluid swing. After sitting out a few games with a stomach bug, he returned to the lineup Friday to slug a grand slam, drive in seven runs and score the winning run on a wild pitch as the Tourists beat the BlueClaws 13-12. That lifted Parker's batting average to .412.
"He takes a good, aggressive swipe at it," Tourists manager Joe Mikulik said.
Wilson, batting eighth, was a more modest 1-for-5, but the one hit was notable - his first home run. After 13 games, the Rockies' 19th-best prospect was hitting .167, with 19 strikeouts in 42 at-bats.
"Russell will be fine," Mikulik said. "He's serious, he's dedicated, and he's focused. That's half the battle."
Six hours before game time Thursday, Wilson was in a batting cage below the left-field stands, taking his rips.
Hitting coach Lenn Sakata, who played 11 years in the major leagues, later took Wilson aside for a few minutes. It was a technical talk, and Wilson was a study in concentration.
"Russell is a newbie. I'm not overly concerned because he hasn't played a lot of baseball," Sakata said. "We're just trying to get his feet wet in baseball and get him some instruction, let him grow with each and every at-bat.
"Most of what he's going to learn is to come with playing. He's an eager student and a guy driven to succeed. I think he's got a pretty good shot at getting to the big leagues if things go well."
Wilson played 106 baseball games in three seasons for the Pack. He played 32 at Tri-City. That's a small sample.
"If you haven't faced good pitching, it's going to take time," said Mikulik, in his 12th season as the Tourists' manager. "... When you get an ample amount of at-bats, that's when you find out. A lot of times, it's 1,500 or 2,000 at-bats before it really clicks in and you make the proper adjustment to be a good hitter."
Wilson, who wears No. 3 in baseball ("It's a Godly number," he said) conceded he has chased bad pitches at times, falling behind in the count.
"I just need to slow things down, slow the game down," he said. "When you slow things down, everything seems easier.
"I'm an impatient person in that I always want to be great. But I understand it's going to be a lesson learned every day, and I need to take my game level up every day."
Working hard to learn
Mikulik called Wilson a "great worker," saying Wilson often beats him to the park. He also said Wilson has been strong defensively, making all the plays in the field.
"And a great teammate," Mikulik said. "He didn't play [Wednesday] and we're getting hammered [18-8 by the BlueClaws], and he's clapping and trying to pick up guys. That's the leadership and character he brings to the table."
Catcher Bryce Massanari, who slugged two homers Thursday, sits near Wilson in the clubhouse. He also grabbed a ride to the park Friday in Wilson's new Mercedes SUV after a workout at a local gym.
"He's a great guy to be around," he said. "He works so hard. You can tell he wants it."
Sakata, a former minor league manager, said Wilson's early struggle at the plate has nothing to do with Wilson adjusting to the wooden bats of pro ball and everything to do with seeing more pitches and getting game experience.
"It will probably take him to the halfway point of the season to catch up with all the guys who have played a lot of baseball these last three or four years," Sakata said. "He's a competitive guy. He's going to get it. And once he gets it, it's going to come fast."
Loving two sports
Why does Wilson play baseball and not football? Ethan Jeffries wanted to know. So do others.
"When I'm playing baseball, I miss football, and when I play football, I miss baseball," Wilson told the young hospital patient. "I love them both."
Wilson told Jeffries of growing up a New York Yankees fan, of admiring the Yanks' Derek Jeter.
"But after being drafted, I'm all Colorado Rockies," he said.
Wilson has a year of football eligibility remaining at N.C. State but is keeping everyone guessing about his plans.
"I haven't made that decision yet," Wilson said Thursday. "I'm just taking it one day at a time."
Football coach Tom O'Brien has said that the Pack has moved on and that Mike Glennon will be the starting quarterback. O'Brien also said if Wilson does return, he would be the backup QB.
What does Wilson have to say about it? Still very little.
"I've been focusing on what I need to focus on right now, and that's baseball," he said.
Football on his mind
Wilson passed for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. He has the kind of career numbers that may one day result in his jersey being retired by NCSU.
That would be jersey No. 16.
"I wanted No. 11, but a teammate, Audi Augustin, had 11, so I just took 16," he said. "Looks kind of neat now. Roman Gabriel had No. 18 and Philip Rivers had 17."
Both Wolfpack quarterbacks had their numbers retired after great careers. So Wilson does have a sense of his potential legacy at N.C. State and where he would fit.
Asked what he would miss, should he not play football next year, Wilson paused for a moment.
"I've played it my whole life, and it's been blessing for me my whole life," he said. "Being around the team, the competition. The ACC is a great conference. I love going out there and trying to win every Saturday."
Wilson was told that some scuttlebutt among State fans was that as a graduate, he could use his final year of eligibility and play at another school if he wanted.
"I already knew that. I know the rules and stuff like that," he said.
But could Wilson see himself playing football for any school other than N.C. State? That question was posed to him.
"Obviously, I love N.C. State football," he said. "It's been a blessing in my life, and I've enjoyed every moment of it."
Teased that it had been a month since he threw a football, that he might be too rusty to play, Wilson grinned again.
"It was a good spiral," he said. "It's always a good spiral."
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