By Ben Brown
North Carolina shortstop Michael Russell is one of the Diamond Heels' most energetic players, and with a roster stocked full of underclassmen, the Charlotte native is doing his best to lead the team through the difficult ACC.
Ben Brown: I heard that the team was participating in "Mustache March", how has that been for you?
Michael Russell: "Well a lot of the guys flaked out on it this year. Today is the last day of March and I think me and Will Norrell, who is one of the bullpen catchers, were the only two left standing with mustaches. Benton Moss had a good one going for a couple of weeks and Tom Zengel just shaved his after we lost to Duke on Saturday. I've kind of grown attached to mine so it might be 'Mustache April' for me. I don't know, we'll see."
BB: As one of the few upperclassmen on the team, how have you taken on more of a leadership role this year?
MR: "I kind of try to lead by example and I say stuff when something needs to be said, but it's more of just trying to do what guys have done who were here before me. On all of our good teams, everybody has worked really hard, and it starts with the older guys and you see them working hard at practice and in the weight room everyday and hopefully everybody follows from there."
BB: Has there been a freshman this year who has really stood out to you?
MR: "Well, I think Wood Myers has been terrific this year and he's off to a really good start at the plate and on top of that even when he gets out, he just has really good battles. He'll foul off three, four or five balls before he gets a hit or makes an out so I think he's been swinging the bat so well so far this year."
BB: What has it been like having former UNC All-America shortstop Josh Horton on the coaching staff this year?
MR: "It's actually probably been more beneficial for me than most, because he's a former shortstop and he played pro ball, so he's had a lot of good tips for me on stuff that I had never heard before. He's worked with a lot of big leaguers and he's also learned a lot on his own, so he's been a real big help for me."
BB: What was the most memorable part about the team's College World Series run last season?
MR: "It's got to be that regional game against Florida Atlantic because the year before when was a freshman I thought we were poised to go to the College World Series but then we lost against St. John's in the regionals. Against Florida Atlantic, it looked like it was going to be a repeat of the previous year, but we came back and that game was just unbelievable and will probably be the craziest game of my life."
BB: What was your experience like playing in the Cape Cod League last summer?
MR: "It was fun. Me and Landon Lassiter were roommates up there, so that was a good time and we got to meet a lot of guys from a lot of different schools around the country and it was cool to learn from those guys. We were definitely a little worn out after playing another 40 games after the school season so it was kind of tiring, but it was a good experience and there was a lot of talent up there."
BB: Did you get to play in Fenway Park when you were there?
MR: "Yeah the very first day we got there me and Landon got to go workout at Fenway and we got to meet Domingo Ayala (YouTube sensation). He was an assistant coach with one of the teams and he pulled out his character so I got to meet him and take batting practice at Fenway so that was really fun."
BB: You've had some pretty unique walk up songs with Ke$ha last year and Selena Gomez this year. What is behind you choosing those songs?
MR: "I think people have to get on board with them, I mean they're both jams and I think other people are just lacking in their taste of music. My senior year of high school my walkup song was "We R Who We R" by Ke$ha and I had a really good senior year. I might have to bring Ke$ha back this year if we don't turn things around. She's kind of the key to the whole thing."
BB: What do you think the team needs to do to get back onto the right track?
MR: "If you look at our losses for the most part aside from maybe one game, we haven't gotten blown out and we're in every single game. So, a run here or a run there in five or so games and we would have won, so I think we just have to stay with the process. We've got to minimize the small mistakes and we've got to get better at our bunt defense and execute better at the plate with a runner on third with less than two outs. For as bad as it seems we've played lately I think if a few plays go our way then things would be completely different. I'm not too worried about it though, I've seen this team play all fall and I've seen a lot of guys do some big things so I just think a few of us just need to get our bats going."
BB: What is one of your biggest life dreams either in baseball or in another aspect of your life?
MR: "Well it's a cliché answer for a college athlete but I really want to be play in the big leagues. But I'm also minoring in coaching here at Carolina and I really like coaching and it's one of the only other things that I've done in my life when I'm not playing sports. So whenever my playing days are over I'd like to get into coaching."
BB: Do you have any interesting pregame rituals?
MR: "I sit in my locker before games and take Harry Potter quizzes on my phone. I know more about Harry Potter than anybody and there's a few of these kids on the internet that know more than me, but I've never met anybody in person that knows more about Harry Potter."