Seattle Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson was glued to the television this summer for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While he’s made his living as a baseball player since being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals out of Oxnard Junior College in 1998, his first love was always on the pitch.
Wilson made his Major League debut in 2001 and was an All-Star with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004. Last season, he came to the Mariners in a mid-season trade. He has since fallen in love with the Sounders FC.
He watched the club train on Friday, then kicked the ball around a bit under the watchful eye of Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid. Then he was at Qwest Field for the Sounders FC’s 3-2 win over Toronto FC on Saturday.
He spoke with SoundersFC.com about his love of soccer and the thrill of training alongside professional soccer players.
What is your soccer background?
From when I was a kid, soccer was my first love. My brother and I were both great athletes and we always excelled at anything we tried. His heart was in baseball and mine was in soccer. My dad would take us to parks and he’d bring his baseball stuff and I’d bring my soccer stuff. He’d throw batting practice for my brother, then we’d find a goal and go shoot. I was on a really good club team and we were No. 1 or 2 in the state every year. When people ask me what my favorite sports memory is, it was when we beat the U-15 National Team from Russia. They hadn’t been beaten in two years and we beat them 2-0. They were the biggest human beings I’d ever seen in my life at 15 years old. It was at the Dallas Cup and we beat them and it was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had. I still haven’t been able to duplicate that. Baseball was just what I did when I didn’t have a soccer tournament. So to be out here and kicking the ball around with the guys, this is my dream. My dream was to be out here and do what these guys are doing, so it was a lot of fun for me.
What was the decision like when you decided on baseball over soccer?
I cried my eyes out. It was a decision I had to make knowing the percentages of how tough it would be in soccer if I wanted to be a professional athlete. I didn’t really expect to make it to the big leagues, but I wanted to continue playing. As much as I loved soccer, I’d been to ODP camps and I saw how good other guys were and I knew that I was pretty good, but not at that level. I didn’t think I’d get to that level. In my last game we ended up tying and I lost it. It was really hard for me. I still use a lot of soccer stuff in my workouts in the offseason. It’s great for your footwork. To me it’s the best game in the world, I love it.
How much does your soccer background help you on the diamond?
I tell people all the time when I go to camps and parents ask me what to do with their kids to let them play sports. There will come a time when they will make that decision for themselves, but they should be athletes first. I would never come close to being a big league shortstop if I didn’t learn the footwork from playing soccer for the majority of my childhood. It translates over. If it’s your dream to be a professional athlete, play as many sports as you can when you’re young. I was playing football, baseball and soccer in high school and I lost it when I knew it would be my last game. And when I retire from baseball I know there will be a men’s league team where I’ll be pulling hammies there left and right. It’s something I’ll never let go of. I can see myself letting go of baseball, but never soccer.
What type of player were you?
I was a striker. I was a goal-scorer. I just sat behind that sweeper and I scored a lot of goals in high school. The only thing close to scoring a goal in soccer is a homer or a grand slam. And even then, when you get to a high level of soccer, there’s no rush like scoring a goal and having your guys bum-rush you. I play an alumni game every year, even though I’m not supposed to. I’ve scored pretty much every year and it feels the exact same. I don’t care if I’m playing against 16-year-olds. I’m running over, grabbing the flag, doing rock band, sliding, doing the train, the whole nine yards. There’s no feeling like when you put it in the back of the net. It’s like winning the World Series. You can’t duplicate that feeling. My heart is with the Sounders every game. That Montero goal (against Chicago) at the last minute … I was flipping out. My wife and kids were looking at me like I was an idiot. But that feeling is … I’m excited. I love it and I’m really happy to be able to come out here and kick it around with these guys.
So, who is your club?
Oh, Sounders, dude. Growing up there was no MLS and I like the LA Lazers in the MISL. It was fun, but it was out in LA and it was a long drive for us. And soccer wasn’t that big. Now you can see the United States getting into soccer, watching the MLS expand. When I was in Pittsburgh they had a minor league team, the Riverhounds, but I didn’t catch many of their games. When I came here I went to a game with some friends of mine and when I walked into that place, I was ridiculously pumped. I’ve been to World Cup games and in Seattle is the closest thing in the states to what you’ll see overseas or in the World Cup. All three of my kids have Sounders jerseys, my wife has a Sounders jersey and we get all decked out for the games. When they play during the day and we play at night, or vice versa, I usually hit the 12:30 game, stay for almost the whole game, then walk over to the stadium and get ready for mine. I will be going home to southern California after the season, so I’m hoping the Sounders meet up with the Galaxy. I know this is selfish of me, but I want to see them play in LA. If they’re not, I have a good feeling that I can talk my wife into taking a trip to see them play in the playoffs. We’re excited about what the team can do.
Wilson was batting .249 with the Mariners in 2010 before a hand injury in August ended his season. The Mariners play their season finale Sunday at 1:10 at Safeco Field. For tickets, visit www.Mariners.com.