ST. LOUIS – Addison Russell didn’t get his own billboard across the street from the iconic marquee before his Wrigley Field debut. He wears Under Armour, not adidas.
Russell didn’t shoot a commercial with a goat during his time at Triple-A Iowa. Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, Bulls star Joakim Noah and Bears legend Mike Ditka didn’t celebrate his arrival in a Red Bull spot.
But if not for Kris Bryant, Russell would be the one anointed by Cubs fans and the Chicago media. That’s what happens when you go into the season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect while your teammate gets ranked No. 1 overall on the same list.
Not that Russell is complaining.
“That’s kind of how I like it,” Russell said. “I like to be under the radar a little bit. I don’t like to be out there in the media a lot. I’m just kind of a quiet person. It’s been kind of cool just to kick back, relax and let most of the attention go the other way.”
Busch Stadium’s sea of red is not exactly a relaxing environment for the Cubs, much less the National League’s youngest player at 21 years and 104 days. But Russell has confidently shown that he belongs right in the middle of the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, leaving St. Louis with a 10-game hitting streak (12-for-35, .343) after Thursday’s 5-1 loss.
“I’ve never played with so many fans in the stadium before,” Russell said. “It’s pretty cool because I’m performing in front of all these people. It’s just something that has to come along with it. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere. You definitely feel the rivalry tension. It’s a good thing.”
The Cardinals drew 170,273 and won this four-game series. But St. Louis fans should get used to seeing Russell, who has now played exactly as many career games in the big leagues (14) as on the Triple-A level. He’s already tied for the team lead with six doubles and out-homering Bryant 2-0.
“The ball comes off the bat hot,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s got a really sound approach to the ball with his hands and the way he flicks the bat head at the ball. That’s where all this pop’s coming from.
“This guy’s got some legitimate power in his bat.”
That’s why Cubs executives were ecstatic when Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane offered to include the young shortstop in last summer’s blockbuster Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade.
“I want to be consistent,” Russell said. “I’m still trying to learn the ins and outs of second base. But at the plate, I think it’s a little natural. Things are just coming together. I’m seeing more pitches, seeing more pitchers and really recognizing pitches here.
“It’s more laid-back now that I’m getting these ABs.”
Russell has a smooth voice that makes it sound like he could someday be a news anchor or a narrator for HBO documentaries. Maddon has noticed how much Russell has exhaled since he got called up, flying from Des Moines to Minneapolis to Pittsburgh to make his big-league debut on April 21 at PNC Park.
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“You’re seeing it in the game,” Maddon said. “You can see the difference in his swing…how much freer it (is). But conversationally, he’s legitimately at ease and smiling like he did in spring training. And to me, that’s the true indicator.
“And as he gets more comfortable – heads up.”