If the Chicago Cubs have their way, 2016 will be the year they finally end a 108-year World Series championship drought and send the Curse of the Billy Goat the way of the Curse of the Bambino.

Addison Russell aims to do his part. He may not have the biggest name on a star-studded Cubs team fresh off a 103-win regular season, but there’s no question he’s a rising star. The second-year shortstop was an All-Star for the first time in 2016, and his stellar defense and strong offense make him one of the best two-way players still standing.

Russell is partnering with MET-Rx for a campaign based on the pressure to deliver in October. As part of that, he took time Tuesday to talk with Bleacher Report about the trajectory of his career and the mood around Chicago and the Cubs themselves on the eve of the team’s National League Division Series matchup against the San Francisco Giants.


Bleacher Report: I want to start by going back into your personal history. You got your first taste of Wrigley Field in 2010, when you were there for the Under Armour All-America Game. Do you recall what your impressions of the stadium were at the time?

Addison Russell: I remember driving up on the bus and seeing where Clark and Addison met. I was like, “Oh, man, I didn’t know that Wrigley Field was on Addison St.” From there, that was my first impression.

And then you go into the ballfield and you see the ivy, you see the brick wall and these things from when you were a kid, and finally it’s just right there in front of you. And you get to play on the field with athletes from all over. So it was a pretty cool experience.


B/R: So you get traded over from Oakland in 2014. You come up last year. And this year, you had your coming-out party. You were an All-Star. Your offensive numbers improved. You played great defense. Is there any one thing from this season that you’re most proud of, and what was the biggest key for you to accomplish it?

AR: I would say my defense is something that I think improved tremendously. Obviously, I think the offensive side has too, with the slugging numbers. But I would say where I improved most would probably be mentally more than physically.

Just going through the grind of 162 games and waking up and going to sleep at different work hours. It’s just a lot. It’s a lot to cope with. That’s something that I’ll take out of this year and use for next year.


B/R: To play off that, how’s your confidence level going into the postseason this year compared to where you were last October?

AR: My confidence level is pretty high right now. I’ve been getting my reps. I’ve been getting my rest. We have another workout today. The body’s feeling great, so everything’s a go right now. Like I said, mentally, I feel like I’m prepared. I had a little bit of experience of it last year, and I’m just trying to use some of that experience going into our first series coming up. It should help a lot.


B/R: I want to ask you about the mood in Chicago these days. Cubs fans are notoriously fatalistic for reasons that are obvious. But what about now? Are they drinking the Kool-Aid? Is Chicago ready for this drought to end?

AR: I would say just from looking at the fans and conversing with the fans, I know that they’re ready for something big to happen here in Chicago. The fans have been awesome.

I know the team has been working really, really hard to make all this come true and that we’re trying our best and getting better every single day. We’re picking each other up. We’re doing the small things that a team needs to do to end up on top.

So yeah, I can definitely see that Chicago is ready for something big to happen here.


B/R: How about the mood in the clubhouse? You guys are obviously all aware of the history surrounding this franchise and the drought that’s been going on for over a century. But is that discussed at all? Is it bulletin-board material for you guys?

AR: I think the way that we go about it is just trying to get better each day. And over the course of the year, that has been the goal. And I think we’ve just been having some fun, man. We’re having some fun winning.

And at the same time, we’re getting the job done. Mentally, I think we need to stay where we’re at right now. That’s been working out for us this far. I don’t think we should change anything up. It’s been working great this whole year, and we’ve been dominating.

If we just stay that course and just try to get better every single day, I think we’ll have something good to look forward to.


B/R: Playing off that, Joe Maddon is in charge, and he’s been known to set a tone. But with guys such as John Lackey, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist coming aboard over the winter and all the young guys having a year of experience after last year, how would you say the character of this year’s team is different from the team that went to the National League Championship last year?

AR: You really get a good swirl and a good mix of veterans, rookies, youth and liveliness. Everything’s live. Everything’s fun. It seems like the veterans mesh really well with some of the younger guys and vice versa.

The younger guys say “What’s up?” to the veterans. They’re not shy at all. Just looking at the team in the clubhouse, the way that we converse and the way we interact with each other is something that I haven’t been a part of ever before.

It’s a pretty cool thing to see young Latins talk to the David Rosses or the Ben Zobrists of baseball and myself talk to [Anthony] Rizzo and KB [Kris Bryant] to where we can relate on certain things. We’re just meshing, man. It’s a perfect swirl, and it’s a perfect mix.

We’re definitely embracing what we have here in Chicago.


B/R: Is there one veteran in particular who’s had an especially big impact on you either personally or with your career?

AR: I would say David Ross and Ben Zobrist have been two of the big league guys who I’ve looked at the most. Just to see how they go about their business. They’ve had a lot of time in the big leagues, and they have a pretty good idea of what they need to do to accomplish whatever they need to accomplish for that year.

That’s really what I look at with those two guys.


B/R: You guys obviously had the best record, by far, in the league this year. But in the last 25 years, history hasn’t been so kind to the team with the best record in baseball. Only a couple of teams (h/t ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark) in the last 25 years with the best record have gone on to win the World Series. From your perspective, why can this Cubs team be an exception to the rule?

AR: I would say because not only are we looking at 100 or so wins, but we’ve got the rest that we need. We have a manager that has been in that playoff-type situation, a manager that has won World Series before*.

We have guys who have won World Series before. We have professionals that just know how to handle this situation and that we’re not afraid to pick the ear of and really tap in and get to know what we need to know and what to expect whenever we go through these situations. That’s something that is different, I feel.

*Joe Maddon only took the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series in 2008 but had won it six years earlier as the bench coach for the 2002 Anaheim Angels.


B/R: One last question for you: If this does become the team to snap the 108-year drought in Chicago, do you know what the first thing you’re going to do to celebrate is?

AR: I’m probably gonna hang out with my family, kiss my children and, yeah, just pop bottles with my family or something like that.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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