In 1970 Australia's interstate baseball competition, the Claxton Shield, switched play from winter to summer. Top flight cricketers, who had been playing baseball in winter, were forced to choose between the sports.
Paul Russell was 19. He was an A grade cricket player, but chose baseball over cricket. And by the end of the 1970 Claxton Shield season, his first year playing for NSW, he also was the recipient of the Helms Award, given to that year’s top player.
As NSW approached a finals showdown against South Australia that year, and Paul learned he was a frontrunner for the award, he was surprised: he'd never even heard of the Helms Award.
Paul only started playing baseball in 1965. He was a natural, quickly advancing to the NSW and Australia U16 and U18 sides. He was playing 1st grade for Rockdale, a second-division club, when a player in the NSW team, Peter Whalan, convinced the coach, Kevin Cantwell, to give Paul a trial.
Paul was sitting on the bench in his first game, when Whalan feigned an injury and urged Cantwell to send Paul in to bat in his place to “see what the kid could do”. Paul blasted a home-run and cemented his place in the squad.
He was a fixture for NSW and Australia over the next eight years, before a broken wrist in 1977 ended his playing days at the elite level.
In 1971, Paul was offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals to play professionally in the US, but he was newly married and a condition of the offer was that his wife, Pam, could not accompany him, so he declined.
In 1974, Japanese industrial league champions Daishowa toured Australia. Paul was added to each state's team, played in every game, and was offered a contract to play in Japan, but again declined for family reasons.
After his playing career ended, Paul coached for many years, steering ‘wooden spoon’ Sydney clubs, Blacktown Workers and Moorebank, to championships. He will now be lend his expertise to the fledgling Bellingen Diggers Baseball Club. Following recent successful cataract surgery, his return to the field as a player is not out of the question either.
Paul and his wife, Pam, live in Urunga with Paul’s daughter, Petah, having moved to the area from South West Rocks three years ago. He also is a keen bowls player, competing for Urunga Bowls Club at the 3rd grade level.