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Cubs’ Addison Russell: ‘If hometown fans want to boo … then that’s on them’

Addison Russell of the Cubs warms up before a game against the Marlins at Wrigley Field. (David Banks/Getty Images)

Addison Russell is about two weeks into a “social media cleanse.” That’s what he called it Thursday in the late-morning quiet of the Cubs’ clubhouse before a 4-1 victory against the Marlins in which he did not appear.

“It’s been really, really nice to ‘fast’ in the social-media world, I guess,” he told the Sun-Times. “And I guess now’s a better time than ever for me to do that.”

Makes sense. Unless whatever guilt and shame he’s carrying around these days isn’t enough for him, it’s probably a fine idea.

But for how long? Everybody’s talking about him. An army of posters is ripping him. If nothing else, his ears must be, as the saying goes, burning. Besides, he’s no less hooked on his phone than the typical 25-year-old is.

“The thing about being a millennial, we’re kind of drawn into the new-age stuff,” he said. “Maybe it’ll be a couple of days, a couple of weeks. I can’t say when the good time is to hop back on. But it’s been good for me and for my family. The vibe I put out is the vibe my family receives and my friends and teammates receive — and it’s not going to be altered by a troll or an angry beat writer or something like that.”

What about a troll and an angry writer? Some of us like to think we can be both at the same time.

Anyway, if you’re out there criticizing Russell — not that there’s a damn thing wrong with that — you might as well know that he isn’t reading it and saying to himself, “Man, I never thought of it like that before.”

He did, however, hear those boos Wednesday in his first game back at Wrigley Field since his 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy. Oh, he heard them all right. He just doesn’t seem to have been particularly affected by them.

“I’m a baseball player for the Chicago Cubs,” he said. “I’m one of the dudes in this clubhouse. I’m one of the guys who goes out there and puts his [body] on the line. We do it because we love it. We want to win, and we want to bring another championship to Chicago. And if hometown fans want to boo someone that’s trying to help bring the team a World Series again, then that’s on them.”

The fans are entitled to their opinions, Russell says.

And Russell is entitled to his, even if his comments toward “trolls,” media members and boobirds might come off as a bit dismissive.

He’ll have to own his comments from here on out, too.

Those who cover the Cubs will tell you Russell — even before he became a controversial figure — rarely seemed at ease in interviews. He could be nervous or wary, and very shy. Sometimes, he struggled to find the right words. He was about as smooth in an interview as the average journalist is at going into the hole to backhand a hot smash.

He clearly has had a lot of media coaching the last several months, though. And he made it understood when speaking with a full audience of media that he’s in far better control of that part of the job.

“In the past, I was a little more shy and timid and really didn’t want to speak on how I felt, and I think that can only get you so far,” he said. “But now I feel like I’m a little bit more open and can speak to what I’m feeling and to what I’m thinking a little bit better. . . .

“Before, thoughts got ahead of what I was actually trying to say. Here, I’m trying to let thoughts sink in before I actually speak.”

Here’s some of what I think:

The Cubs should’ve released Russell a long time ago.

But once they didn’t — once they committed to trying to help him find his way through the wilderness, a decision that has its own merit — then it was only a matter of time before we’d see him again.

He’s here. We’re going to speak with him often and routinely. It’s not going to be a full-frontal media attack (anything less, and some on social media will characterize it as softball journalism), but an effort to stay current with him and his rehabilitative efforts. One hopes we’ll hold him accountable for his actions — and his words.

Meanwhile, others watching it all unfold will use scorecards not to score the games, but rather to track who cheers, who boos and who criticizes Russell and the Cubs the loudest. It’s kind of the way things work nowadays. It has its own merit, too.

It’s up to Russell if, and to what extent, he wants to be part of a broader conversation about his abusive past and how to square it with being allowed to play for the Cubs.

“I really do love the fans here,” he said. “I love the atmosphere. . . .

“Fans are going to feel whatever they want to feel. For me, there’s no hard feelings about that. Everyone’s entitled to what they say and what they want to do, whatever. I get it. I definitely get it. But, at the end of the day, I’m here.”

That’s where his head is at.