MESA, Ariz. (AP) Addison Russell was laying on his mom’s bed in the house he bought the family in Pensacola, Florida, with his signing bonus. His Shih Tzu-poodle mix puppy, Oakley, started licking his face.
Tears started flowing.
”That’s when all the memories from this past year, from spring training to the middle of the season, then the World Series run,” the Chicago Cubs shortstop recalled. ”It all hit me at once. It was overbearing. I started crying. That’s when it sunk in, this offseason. It was just a magical moment.”
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The 23-year-old Russell, acquired in the July 2014 trade that sent Jeff Samardzija to Oakland, made his Cubs debut in April 2015. He hit mostly hit ninth in the order but got hurt and missed the NL Championship Series.
He moved to the middle of the order last season and responded with 21 home runs and 95 RBIs to become the youngest Cubs All-Star. He went on to become the youngest player to hit a World Series grand slam since Mickey Mantle (1953) and tied the Series mark with six RBIs in a game.
”He is a quiet kid, but he puts his work in and is one of the hardest workers,” teammate Kris Bryant said. ”He is young and that work he has already put in is setting him up for super-stardom. I first played with him in the Arizona Fall League and I remember thinking he is going to be a star.”
Russell is still getting used to that status off the diamond. He was given an honorary key to the city by Pensacola. There were two separate Addison Russell Day celebrations during the offseason, including one at Pace High School, his alma mater.
”This whole fame thing is completely new to me,” he said. ”Walking into an airport, people want autographs in different airports in different cities. It’s very humbling. I’m just a small town guy. It hit me pretty hard.”
The focus now, after the visits to the White House and meeting with executives about possible endorsement deals are over, is on building off of last season and continuing to develop into the one of the game’s bright young stars.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Russell is among the young group of shortstop stars along with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor.
”There are definitely some out there right now,” Maddon said. ”They are young, they are good, and they all seem to get it. They understand their place in the game.”
Russell, who is becoming one of the most popular Filipino athletes thanks to his mother’s bloodlines, knows there is plenty to work on throughout 2017.
”I really have to become more familiar with the pitchers and the bullpens each teams have,” he said. ”I’m not saying I know all the pitchers. But it’s my third time around. I’m going to see some arms that I’ve seen before. I’m going to show some growth this year, hopefully. And to stay healthy. That’s the No. 1 goal.”
Having No. 27 in the lineup as much as possible will go a long way in giving the Cubs a chance at a title repeat.
”It happened all so quickly,” he said. ”It’s really hard to even grasp it. Whenever you’re in that type of situation, there’s something in the back of your mind that says, Remember this. Remember this.’ And then you do.”