Cubs: After trade, James Russell will see what he's made of

Cubs: After trade, James Russell will see what he's made of
July 31, 2014, 5:30 pm
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Tony Andracki

As the minute-hand ticked by on the big clock atop the historic Wrigley Field scoreboard, James Russell thought he was safe and sound.

Russell made the walk down the left-field line to head into the Cubs clubhouse around 3 p.m. Chicago time and sat down next to Travis Wood on the bench, thinking he had survived another trade deadline with the Cubs.

A minute later, Russell was informed he had, in fact, been dealt to the Atlanta Braves as part of a three-player deal.

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"It's kinda hard to wrap your head around it," Russell said. "It's obviously a shock. I kinda knew things were gonna happen. There's nothing really that can prepare you for this.

"It's still kinda weird. I don't know how to feel. There's a lot of excitement and a lot of mixed emotions, but it's gonna be a good thing."

After he got the news, #HugWatch was in full effect as Russell started saying goodbye to his teammates. He went back to the Cubs bullpen and received a mini round of applause from the fans in that section when they realized what was going on.

Russell will now head to Atlanta and will take part in his first pennant race with the Braves. He came up to Chicago in 2010 and spent five years with the Cubs, which means he played for five fifth-place teams.

"That'll be exciting; something I've never experienced," Russell said. "I'm sure there will be a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotion. It'll be fun. Get to see what I'm made of."

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Russell, the son of former big-league reliever Jeff, has shown what he's made of in his time with the Cubs, taking the ball 316 times - including 195 times over the last two-and-a-half seasons - and never complaining about the heavy workload.

"I give that guy a lot of credit," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer. "He worked really hard for a couple years in some bullpens that we put together that were probably pretty shorthanded. He always took the ball. He's a gamer and I think when he's right, he's a really good left-handed reliever. Not many guys locate like he does.

"He's poised. He's a great competitor. People talk about bloodlines in baseball and obviously his dad was a great competitor. It's genetic. I think he's a guy who you know he doesn't scare off in a big moment and he's gonna be a great guy down the stretch in a pennant race."

That blue-collar mentality has helped Russell emerge as a reliable left-handed option out of the bullpen, posting a 3.42 ERA with 37 holds since the start of 2012.

[HUGS: Cubs trade Bonifacio, Russell to Braves]

"My dad has always taught me to just take the ball and be a gamer," Russell said. "You can't really make a paycheck while sitting on the training table.

"Not everybody gets to be a professional baseball player, so you might as well go out and do it every day."

It's been a changing of the guard for the Cubs in July. First, they traded away Jeff Samardzija, making Russell the longest-tenured player in the clubhouse. With Russell gone, that title now falls on Starlin Castro's shoulders.

The Cubs are the only professional organization Russell has ever known, coming straight from the University of Texas as a 14th-round pick in 2007.

"There's a lot of memories," Russell said, listing off former players like Derrek Lee, Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly while mentioning former Cubs manager Lou Piniella by name. "It's just some of the things that you'll never forget.

"It's fun. You're always going to remember the first place that you start with. Nowadays, you very seldom see guys play their whole career with one team. You never know. You can always come back. I mean, I'd love to come back to Chicago."

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After Thursday's Cubs-Rockies game ended, Russell called his dad, who was traded three times over his 14-year MLB career.

"He told me 'I know how you feel. It's hard to wrap your head around it,'" Russell said. "You just got so much stuff running through your head - you're like, 'man, what am I gonna do with all my clothes and my car and everything?'

"But I guess you can't really worry about it. You just have to worry about the one thing you can control and that's go out there and play baseball."