OAKLAND — Addison Russell finally got to play his first game at The Coliseum, only the circumstances were much different than he imagined while coming up through the A’s farm system.
Russell wasn’t the only former Athletic suited up for the Cubs in Friday’s 7-2 victory for Chicago, but his may have been the most unique perspective.
Just over two years ago, Russell was the A’s premier prospect, the most hyped prospect to come through Oakland’s farm system in several years. He was to be the shortstop of the future, part of a promising core taken near the top of the 2012 draft that would develop together and one day anchor the big league infield.
But Russell’s baseball world got rocked on the Fourth of July 2014, when the A’s dealt him to the Cubs in a five-player trade that sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s.
On Friday, he made his long overdue debut in front of the Oakland crowd. But it came with him now entrenched as one of the cornerstone players for a powerhouse Cubs team aiming to snap the franchise’s World Series title drought that goes all the way back to 1908.
Russell went 2-for-3 and scored a run, and afterward, he recalled his first trip to The Coliseum. It came in June 2012, the day he signed with the A’s fresh out of Pace High School (Fla.) and took batting practice while wearing a major league uniform for the first time.
“The first time I was actually here, and the last time, I was 18 years old,” Russell said. “I came here to sign. Just getting out there in batting practice (Friday), feeling the cool air, it brought back a lot of memories.”
The memories also had to come flooding back for his teammate on the mound. Lefty Jon Lester pitched his first game at The Coliseum since his brief stay with Oakland in the latter half of 2014, when the A’s acquired him at the trade deadline from Boston in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes. It was a rare “win-now” move by the A’s that sent shockwaves around the majors but ended in disappointment for Oakland, which fell in that year’s AL Wild Card Game to Kansas City in a game started by Lester.
“I enjoyed pitching here,” said Lester, who held the A’s to two runs over seven innings Friday. “Obviously I would have liked things to go a little bit different when I was here. But they’ve got a great coaching staff. And the guys that were … I mean, there’s not many guys left that I played with. (But) it was a good time, great fans.”
In a sign of the A’s constant roster turnover, not one hitter in their starting lineup Friday played alongside Lester in 2014 with Oakland.
“I figured Coco and Jed would be in the lineup, so at least there would be two guys that I (played with),” he said.
Ben Zobrist and Chris Coghlan also play with the Cubs and have A’s ties, but of them all, Russell will be the one A’s fans will watch through the years and wonder what he might have become wearing green and gold.
Last year, he split time between second and shortstop. This season, he’s entrenched at short for the Cubs (67-41). Russell’s numbers aren’t extraordinary — .244, 12 homers, 65 RBI — but he made his first All-Star team. Still just 22, he oozes talent.
And he remembers his roots, saying he enjoyed seeing guys like Tyler Ladendorf, Ryan Dull and Bruce Maxwell, who were all minor league teammates with the A’s. He threw Billy Burns in that mix too, until it was mentioned that Burns just got traded to the Royals.
“He was just traded? Wow,” Russell said. “That’s the reason why I didn’t see him.”
Lots of players start new chapters of their careers after leaving the A’s. Russell’s whole career still sits in front of him, and the journey seems destined to be an enjoyable one.