By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Two years ago on the Fourth of July, Addison Russell wasn’t watching fireworks. He was in the visiting manager’s office at Arvest Ballpark, home of the Northwest Arkansas Travelers.READ MORE: 'It Sounded Like An Automatic Weapon': Video Captures Rapid Gunfire In River North Shooting That Left Two Injured
Then just 20 years of age, Russell was playing a rehab assignment with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds when team manager Aaron Nieckula called him into the room. The A’s top prospect, Russell was traded to the Cubs in a package that brought right-hander Jeff Samardzija to Oakland. A veteran minor league manager, Nieckula had memorable parting words for the promising prospect.
“Don’t take it to heart,” said Russell, recalling Nieckula’s advice. “Just know this is a great opportunity for you. Take advantage of this opportunity.”
Russell embraced those words, and now he’s a National League All-Star just two years and one day after the stunning trade. The A’s were willing to part ways with their budding star shortstop in a move that was to help them win a World Series.
The Cubs certainly got the last laugh in a trade that could be remembered as historic robbery. Now in his second season, Russell is off to an outstanding start to his big league career. Earning an All-Star bid is baseball recognizing one of its brightest young players.
“It means a lot,” Russell said. “Ever since I was a little kid, that’s all I wanted to do, is make an All-Star Game. Just to be able to do that in a short amount of time that I’ve been in the big leagues, it makes it a little bit better. Hopefully, it’s the first of a few.”
Russell was part of a historic All-Star selection, joining the rest of the Cubs’ infield as starters in the Midsummer Classic. That last happened way back in 1963 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
What’s remarkable about the Cubs’ seven All-Star selections is that three of them are 26 or younger — first baseman Anthony Rizzo is 26, third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant is 23 and Russell is 22. There will be many, many more All-Star appearances for this young group, plus likely some for Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, too.
Consider this the first of many honors to come for the young Russell. He’s hitting .242 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs and has posted a 1.5 WAR. Russell is an excellent defensive player whose bat is coming alive.READ MORE: Girl Kidnapped By Three Men In Ski Masks Near Austin High School
Age would suggest that Russell should still be in the minor leagues. Instead, he’s an All-Star in his second season and is a 4.5 WAR player in his first 220 big league games. Through two seasons to start a career, only the great Honus Wagner had a better mark than a 4.5 WAR among shortstops. Russell is off to a start that outpaces greats like Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin.
What an incredibly bright future Russell has ahead.
“He’s still learning like all of us,” Bryant said of Russell. “It’s going to be pretty special to see how good he’s going to be.
“A lot of All-Star Games, a lot of Gold Gloves for him.”
Long after Tuesday’s 9-5 loss to the Reds, there were plenty of congratulations for Russell to receive. Rizzo was there at his locker, and veteran catcher David Ross waited out Russell to offer a hug.
Russell will cherish his first All-Star Game come next Tuesday in San Diego — the awe-inspiring atmosphere, the teammates you grow up with and the recognition that every baseball player dreams of.
Only two years ago, Russell was in Northwest Arkansas and told to embrace the trade and his new future. Now, it was Cubs manager Joe Maddon offering his own advice.
“Make sure you slow it down,” Maddon told Russell, “and enjoy every second of it.”MORE NEWS: Police Seeking 2 Men Who Carjacked Woman And Family Members During A Delivery in Ford Heights