Feb. 29, 2008


Nine Innings with Kyle Russell

By Patrick Hyde



Kyle Russell owns one of the biggest bats in college baseball - a bat many college pitchers didn't think they'd have to worry about after 2007. But Texas' star outfielder, who led the nation with 28 homers and batted .336 with 71 RBI, declined to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals after being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. He's back, and he's looking to lead the Longhorns to a trip to Omaha. Russell took some time to catch up with CollegeBaseballInsider.com on his favorite road trips, Reece's Peanut Butter Cups and Robert Earl Keen.


First Inning - After such a big season last year, how did you go about improving in the off-season to have a more successful year this year?

I think I told myself during the off-season that I really wanted to cut down on my strikeouts. I really wanted to prove to people out there that it's not always about home runs and strikeouts. It's about getting the ball in play and doing what is best for my team; to do what I can to help the team get a win.


Second Inning - The Cardinals made a significant offer. Why did you decide to come back for another year?

The Cardinals did make a significant offer, but UT is a great school and an education is very important to my family and me. I think that my parents have drilled me ever since I was a little kid that making good grades is very important. It was very hard to turn down. The Cardinals are a great team, and I would have loved to play for them, but things just didn't work out, unfortunately. It's OK though because I always know I can live to see another day, and hopefully things will work out for the better. And maybe the Cardinals will come back with another offer next year.


Third Inning - You had a big opening weekend. With the uniform start date, has it been tough to get ready for the season? What are the keys to getting off to a good start?

I think the keys to getting off to a good start are just clearing your mind set. Everyone is really nervous, the freshmen are just as nervous as we are, but I think when we show our leadership on the field, it calms us down and calms them down as well. It feels great to start off with a bang, especially against a great team like Virginia Commonwealth. We're looking forward to the rest of the season, and I think we're headed in the right direction.


Fourth Inning - After last year's success -- All-America, Big 12 player of the year, Golden Spikes finalist -- what are your personal goals for this year?

I really want to go to Omaha. I'm not thinking of it as an individual sport. I really just want to be here for my team. I haven't been to Omaha yet, and I remember when we went up to the University of Nebraska last year, and we had the opportunity to walk around Rosenblatt Stadium. I was just thinking to myself that I really wanted to be there. Not from an individual standpoint, but from a team standpoint I would really like to go to Omaha.


Fifth Inning - How do you handle all of the attention that you receive?

It's funny because when you're in a town like Austin, all you really have is UT athletics. The guys on the team are experiencing just as much attention as I am, and I really think that helps us mature because of the exposure we receive from the media here. It really doesn't put too much pressure on me. I feel that keeping a level head and focusing on the game at hand really does calm it down and make it not too bad.


Sixth Inning - Do you have any superstitions or habits?

If you're going to be a baseball player, you have to have some superstitions. I always eat two Reese's Peanut Butter Cups before each game. It started last year before we played Stanford. I was really hungry and decided to have two Reese's and ended up hitting two home runs.


Seventh Inning Stretch - What did the Longhorns learn from last year, and how does the team get back to Omaha in 2008?

To get to Omaha, you have to have three things: pitching, hitting and luck. We fell short in the Regionals for the past two years, and we really learned from that. [Junior catcher] Preston Clark and I have really stepped up and become leaders on this team.


Eighth Inning - How has the coaching staff helped you continue to grow as a player?

You can't ask for a better coach than Coach Garrido. The numbers speak for themselves, the winningest coach in baseball history. To be able to pick his brain and understand baseball is great. Everyone says that this game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, and Coach Garrido really emphasizes the mental side of baseball. I have matured and learned so much since I've been here at UT that it blows my mind how much he really has taught me. This coaching staff is one of the best. You have Coach Harmon, who has really helped me with my swing, and Coach Johnson, who really works with the pitchers. They're the best in the nation, and they're really showing it.


Ninth Inning - Where is the toughest place to play on the road? Any favorite places to play on the road?

The Big 12 Conference is always a pretty tough place to play. The fans are awesome and it's fun to head into an environment where not everyone likes you. Three places that I think of are Nebraska, they're unbelievable. They're really good fans, and they're appreciative. When we would win a game, they would tip their hats and tell us great game. The other two would have to be Baylor and Texas A&M. They're always going to be there with that in-state rivalry thing. Every place is pretty crazy, but those are the most phenomenal.


I also like Minute Maid Park a lot. It's the place where I hit my first home run. The other is Baylor Ballpark; those are the most fun for me. The environment is always hyped up. I really am fortunate enough to play on a team that travels to such great places. I've been all over the nation playing on this team. You can't really compare all of them because all of them are phenomenal.


Extra Innings - Any pitchers or opposing staffs make it particularly tough on you? Do you approach them differently?

The one pitcher who really got to me last year was [Nebraska left-handed pitcher] Tony Watson. He played me well; he got me out every single time. He hit his spots, and I would say he was the toughest pitcher I faced last year. When I approach guys who are great pitchers, I just tell myself I just need to shorten up and get the ball in play, treat them like any other pitcher. Sometimes they'll get me, but I know during the next at-bat, I'll have a better chance because I've already faced them.


What are you currently listening to on your iPod?

I'm a Texas boy, and Texas boys like to listen to what they call "Texas Country." My favorites are Roger Creager, Robert Earl Keen and Hank Williams Jr. I'm a country boy. I like my Texas Country.