SEATTLE Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin notices two main types of kids whenever he and his NFL buddies show up for an appearance or sports camp: the Go Crazies and the Hang Backs.
"It's weird - some kids will get really excited, jump up and down," Baldwin told the North Shore News Monday. "And then some kids will just be real calm and just in awe and get real shy and don't want to talk to you."
Baldwin, a Stanford University grad who joined the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent in 2011, remembers being one of the quiet ones whenever he'd meet famous athletes.
"I was a hang back, take it all in, shy kind of dude," he said. This weekend Baldwin and fellow Seahawks Red Bryant and Richard Sherman will find out just what kinds of kids we have on the North Shore when they descend upon West Vancouver for several events as part of the Seahawks 12 Tour. The schedule includes ample free opportunities for fans to get up close to the NFL stars, including a tailgate party Saturday afternoon at The Village at Park Royal and a Family Fest all day Sunday in Ambleside Park.
Calm or crazy, Baldwin is keen to meet all types of fans at the event. He himself met a lot of athletes as a young kid growing up in Pensacola - though the Florida town only houses approximately 50,000 people, the football hotbed is home to enough pro athletes to seemingly stock an entire NFL team itself. He vividly recalls meeting stars like Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith and boxer Roy Jones Jr., both Pensacola natives.
"They'd always come back and do things with the kids," he said. "I've always been a sports fan since I can remember, especially when I met Emmitt Smith. He came up to us and I was just like, 'Dangggg, that's Emmitt Smith.' It was a very surreal feeling."
The encounters had a profound effect on the youngster. "The impact that they had on me - I remember it so clearly. The few things that they did say about education or about making good decisions or about giving your all, that still stands out for me today."
The tables have turned now and Baldwin is the one dishing out little bits of wisdom. It's a role he relishes.
"It's an amazing feeling because you know you're making an impact on those kids' lives," he said. "Every word that you say, they're holding on to. It's phenomenal for me because I remember being in those exact same shoes. When Roy Jones walked up to us it was like, this is one of the greatest boxers who ever boxed. I was thinking in my head that whatever this guy is saying, I need to focus in on it. He's proven that he can be successful. When you roll up on the field it's just an unbelievable feeling because you know those kids are just in love with the moment."
Baldwin may not be a household name like some other flashy wide receivers in the NFL but he may be one of the most qualified to be a role model. He graduated from Stanford with a degree in Science, Technology and Society and was also a member of the national honor society, the math honor society and the Spanish national honor society. He's a proud member of Nerd Nation, the collective student athletes from Stanford.
"We've embraced the word nerd at Stanford," he said with a laugh. Despite his high nerd credentials, however, Baldwin went undrafted after college. Signed as a free agent, he made the Seahawks out of training camp and went on to rack up 51 catches for 788 yards, becoming the first ever undrafted rookie to lead his team in both receptions and receiving yards since the 1970 AFLNFL merger.
"It's truly a blessing because I never dreamed of being in the position that I am now," he said. "Being able to play football at this level, I recognize all the things that I was given by my community, the position that they put me in in order to be successful. In turn, it's kind of like paying it forward. I want to return that favour, return that responsibility that I feel I have to other communities - not only my community but communities abroad if I have the opportunity to do so."
A university degree and official Nerd Nation status aren't the only souvenirs Baldwin picked up at Stanford - he also gained an outlook on life that has seen him become far more vocal and outspoken than most of his professional peers. Baldwin's Twitter feed is full of a lot of the usual fun that athletes engage in but it goes into deeper waters as well, including such things as an anti-consumerism rant that was reposted by a major Seattle newspaper. The thoughtful pro said he'll never shy away from giving his opinions and allowing others to give theirs.
"A part of what I learned at Stanford was just if you have an opinion and you want to express it, you should express it openly but obviously be respectful of others' opinions, and make sure that your opinion is based on fact," he said. "I'm outspoken, I'm very opinionated and I like to interact with my fans also outside of football - talk politics, talk anything in general. . . . That's why I put myself out there at certain times. I want the responses, I want to hear back from the fans and the people in general to get that collective opinion and be able to open my eyes. I hate being narrow-minded so whenever I get the opportunity to hear somebody else's opinion and have it have an impact on me, I think that's phenomenal."
Fans will have plenty of opportunities to share their opinions with Baldwin and friends this weekend when the Seahawks 12 Tour hits the North Shore. With a strong Seahawks following north of the border, you can bet a lot of fans will be asking the players about the team's outlook this season. Last year was a revelation for the Seahawks as they rode a hot streak - as well as the outstanding play of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson - to seven victories in their last eight regular season games and a berth in the playoffs. They knocked off Washington on the road to open the playoffs and then lost by two points to the Falcons in Atlanta.
"Being able to go to the playoffs and play two games in the playoffs, that was an unbelievable feeling for me - it was my first time in the NFL playoffs," said Baldwin.
"It was an unbelievable ride. Obviously losing that Atlanta game left a sour taste in our mouths and we want to get back so badly and have an opportunity to compete for that Super Bowl ring. . . . When it comes right down to it it's going to be the depth of our team and how great the guys that aren't necessarily in the spotlight are going to be. That's ultimately what's going to drive us to get to the Super Bowl, holding up that Super Bowl trophy at the end of the game."
They've got the right man to lead them there as well, said Baldwin. Wilson shone last year despite coming into training camp in a position battle with two much more experienced quarterbacks. The rookie quickly established himself as a player to be trusted.
"When he first came to rookie mini-camp in the off-season I was already sold on him, just the way that he carried himself, the way that he played the game of football," said Baldwin. "You could tell he was something special. We got into the season and obviously we had our ups and downs but when we started hitting our stride, a lot of that you have to attribute to his work ethic and the way that he carried himself and the way that he didn't get bothered by some of the bumps and bruises he had to take at the beginning of the season. Russell was just a phenomenal leader - not only verbally, but he just led by example. He was just being himself, day in and day out. It's amazing for a rookie to be able to do that, especially at the quarterback position."
After last year's success the Seahawks won't be surprising anyone this year, but that's just the way they want it, said Baldwin.
"We'll continue to grow on that and build on that and only get better," he said. "I always used to say 'the sky is the limit,' but the sky isn't the limit for us - we have so much that we're capable of doing. Once we get to the point where we're back on a roll, I don't think there's anything that can stop us."
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This weekend's Seahawks 12 Tour kicks off on the North Shore with a tailgate party from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at The Village at Park Royal followed by a celebrity flag football draft at the Village Taphouse. Sunday's events at Ambleside Park include the family fest and a flag football tournament running from 9: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m., a Gatorade Junior Training Camp (registration full) at 10: 30 a.m. and the celebrity flag football game at 2: 30 p.m. Rumoured celebrities include Handsworth head coach and former star quarterback Jay Prepchuk, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jason Garrison and Real Housewives of Vancouver star Ronnie Negus, among many others. For more information visit Seahawks.com/12Tour.