In 2010, Addison Russell led Pace High School to the Class 5A state baseball championship. Just six years later, he helped the Chicago Cubs win the World Series for the first time in over 100 years.
The high school plans to honor Russell on November 29. On Tuesday, he was presented with the key to the city of Pensacola.
Before the ceremony outside City Hall, dozens of local Chicago Cubs fans, decked out in their Cubs gear, waited for a chance to greet Russell and take part in the local celebration. Front and center were Chicago-area natives Bill and Carla Schopp, who now live in Pensacola.
“You know, the Cubs are already big everywhere thanks to WGN back when they were the Super Station or whatever they called themselves. But, to have Addison here is just fabulous, everybody’s excited,” said Carla Schopp, who was waving a large white Cubs Win flag,
Now in their sixties, the Schopps grew up in Streator, Illinois, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago, and have waited their entire lives to see the Cubs get back to and win the World Series.
In Game six, Russell knocked the biggest hit of his young professional career. Chicago was down three games to two in the series and again facing elimination. In the top of the third inning in Cleveland, the 22-year old hit a grand slam to stretch the Cubs’ lead to 7-0, and helped to force Game seven.
“When Addison hit that grand slam, I was sitting in Civic Band practice and I did a timeout to the director,” Schopp said, recalling how she announced the big hit to her bandmates. “And the whole band room just erupted. It was hysterical; we loved it.”
Pensacola resident Alyssa Gacic, 26, was among the younger generation of Cubs fans. “My entire family is from Chicago; I’m here, so they live vicariously through me because they couldn’t be here,” Gacic said. “I had perpetual grin syndrome for the entire week afterwards.”
Referring to Addison Russell, Gacic said it was a cherry on top to have someone from this community be part of the Cubs’ win.
Amanda Ruiz and her sister Erin, who drove over from Fort Walton Beach, agreed.
“It was great knowing that somebody from our small town can make it big and be successful in the next level,” Amanda Ruiz said. “You know post college and post high school and it gives a lot of people something to look up to and for me, something to look up to.”
As the anticipation was building the fans began singing the Cubs’ win song “Go Cubs Go” and erupted into cheers when Addison Russell and his family finally appeared with Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward.
“It’s been 108 years since the Cubs won and you hit the grand slam in the top of the third, thinking about Pensacola, I know, and Pace and Santa Rosa County and Escambia County, right Addison, right,” Hayward jokingly asked.
Hayward then read a proclamation establishing November 15, 2016 as Addison Russell Day in Pensacola and then presented him with a Key to the City.
“It is not a key to any lock, but it is the true key to the hearts of the citizens of Pensacola, Escambia County, Santa Rosa County, the great state of Florida,” said Hayward, expressing the community pride.
For his part, Russell, as usual, was humble and spoke for less than a minute as he thanked everyone for taking time out of their busy schedules to come share the event with him and his family. “It’s been a very long road, but I’m glad we’re here and it can only get better from here,” Russell said. “And, hopefully, you’ll see more of me and my family out there winning more world championships.”
Russell seemed pleased with the local event, but excitedly remembered the fervor in Chicago after the historically long World Series drought came to end.
“Oh, it was crazy,” said Russell, recalling the mass of some 5 million people shouting their names and Cubs red and blue everywhere. “We have the trophy with us, too, and we were waving to all the fans and going down Michigan Avenue...it was very, very touching.”
After the Pensacola ceremony, Russell talked about the long journey to this point, from the time he was drafted in the first round by the Oakland A’s in 2012.
“It’s just been a crazy road, leaving home at 18 and then pursuing my dream and passion of becoming a major league baseball player,” he said. “And, then from, there it’s just getting to the big leagues and staying in the big leagues and just getting better.”
Assessing himself, Russell says he’s in that ‘phase of getting better and is excited to see what the future holds.’ But, it’ll be hard to top 2016, as the Cubs shortstop hit 21 home runs, had 95 runs batted in, was voted in as a starter in the All-Star Game, and was a Gold Glove finalist on the way to a historic World Series win; the team’s first since 1908.