“"How many leaders actively seek out and encourage views alien and at odds with their own? All too few...Who in your organization serves as your Challenger In Chief? Interrogating the choices you are considering making? Making you consider the uncontemplated, the unimaginable and that which contradicts or refutes your position? And also challenging you?"”
Some say the age of the Renaissance man is over, but if a modern definition exists for such a person, then Christopher John “C.J.” Wilson makes a fine fit. More than a talented pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California baseball team, he combines the flash of a speed-hungry sportsman and business owner with a flair for writing, photography and cooking and an attitude that helps him continue improving his fast-paced life.
Wilson came home to California after joining the Angels in late 2011, signing a five-year contract worth $75 million. Born in Newport Beach, California, he played baseball while attending Santa Ana Junior College and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Then, after playing in the minor leagues, he joined the Texas Rangers in 2005. In 2010 and 2011 the Rangers made it to the World Series, and Wilson made it onto the All-Star team two years in a row.
Pitching and hitting left-handed, he seemed headed for an All-Star appearance again last year until bone spurs in his left elbow hampered his pitching performance in the second half of the season. The Angels, despite a winning percentage of .549, didn’t make it into the playoffs.
For Wilson, baseball isn’t everything, and his off-season, when not burdened by elbow surgery (he had similar surgery in 2008), is filled with activity, from managing his car dealership in Chicago to overseeing his Mazda auto-racing team, to trying out new cameras and cooking for friends. “I’m a photo dork, big-time,” he said, but he also has ambitions to put his college study of screenwriting to work. Another important effort is C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities, which he founded to help “children and their families affected by chronic, life-threatening illnesses or dealing with social or financial challenges.”
With such varied and far-flung interests, it’s no surprise that Wilson has taken to business jet travel.
How were you introduced to business jet travel?
A couple of years ago, one of my teammates was flying to California from Texas, so he took me and one of our other teammates. We flew with Sentient, and one of the reps was on the jet. At the time, I didn’t have the means, but he gave me his card and said, “If you ever do get that big contract and you want to go fly somewhere, let me know.”
I made the All-Star team the next season, so I flew my dad and a couple of friends out there and started making little flights here and there, spending an extra day in certain cities that I liked. It helped me out a lot during free agency, because I was able to fly wherever I wanted. It makes it convenient for me, somebody who has so many things going on.
What occupies your time aside from baseball?
I have a race team [Wilson Racing], hobbies, family.
What cars does Wilson Racing race?
Mazdas. Mazda was the easiest platform to get into from a drivability and financial standpoint. Ferraris are cool, Porsches are cool, but they’re very expensive if you crash them. And the cool thing about Mazdas—I knew I was going to crash it because I was a rookie race car driver—the bumper is [about] 200 bucks, which is not that bad. And now that I’m in with Mazda, I have a dealership, so it’s really cool.
Where’s the dealership?
It’s in Chicago. Earlier [last] year I was in Minnesota. We had an off day between Minnesota and Detroit, so I flew to Chicago, then to Detroit. That’s where the private jet comes in. It’s the ultimate convenience, which has good and bad sides because you can go a bit crazy trying to do too much. I have to pace myself; I can do only so many things in one day.
[I can’t add] more hours to the day…but the closest thing to that is the business jet. It saves you tons of time. And when you’re doing all this different stuff, it saves you money because you can be there in person, which means that you can make the deal happen.
Do you have a favorite airplane?
I’d never flown on a Gulfstream until [last] year. We flew on a Gulfstream IV out to Kansas City [Missouri] for the All-Star game. Jered Weaver and Albert Pujols and a couple of the other guys, we all pitched in. That was really rad. But, they’re all awesome. I was an aviation fan growing up because my dad was a pilot. Every time I drive past airfields, I see those twin-engine prop planes. I’m always like, man, that would be so fun to fly one of those things.
What did your dad fly?
He just had a small [Cessna] 150. He sold the plane because he wasn’t able to fly it often enough, so he got a motorcycle. I’m a motorcyclist as well. Anything with an engine I’m really just a big fan of. I was five or six years old when Top Gun came out so for me as a kid, it was the coolest thing possible. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, and my dad was like, “Here’s the downside; you get shot at.” So I was, like, maybe I’ll just play baseball.
What is it that you like about flying privately?
It is way better to be able to roll up to the tarmac and they know your itinerary, it’s always convenient, you’re always treated like royalty. You also don’t have people asking you for autographs or bugging you about this or that game or whatever. The hardest thing about being a baseball player or any kind of celebrity is that people want some of your time and you’re not always able to give it because you need your own time. And on a business jet you get your own time. You don’t have to put your headphones on just to drown out the crying baby around you. If you’re operating on short rest or whatever, it allows you to stay sharp.
How often do you get to travel on business jets?
Sometimes I’ll do five or six [trips a year], depending on where I have to go and what’s at stake. Because if I have to close a really big deal with a corporate sponsor or something like that, then I’ll get there [on a private jet].
I understand you like to cook.
In the off season, one of the first things I like to do is go to the supermarket and pick out some stuff, invite people over and cook for them. When you’re coming up through the minor leagues, going year-to-year in the major leagues, you never know what the future is. And the first time you sign a contract and you know where you’re going to be, it’s like you have that planted feeling and you’re able to nest a little bit. That’s the cool part of knowing that I’m going to be here. I can psychologically put down roots.
Now that I’m home, the main thing is figuring out a way to balance out the life of the baseball player and the life of the 32-year-old guy. You know, baseball’s a way of not growing up because it’s not a real job in a lot of ways. It’s a really awesome job but it’s not the same as what a lot of other people do. It allows you to live in this perpetual youth phase, and it’s fun to share that with people, especially family and friends.
Do you get to race in your team’s car?
I’m not going to this year. I might do a couple of practices or exhibitions but there’s just too much at stake now. Legally speaking, you can do whatever you want. It’s at your own risk. If you get injured and you show up to spring training injured because of it, then they can release you from your contract, which could be financially very painful.
Where does your positive attitude to life come from?
More than anything it comes from ambition. Anytime you have ambition as a kid, there’s always somebody that stands in your way and says, “That’s not possible, that’s not likely, you’re too small, you don’t throw hard enough.” You have to develop a thicker skin, and part of that is being positive. So if you tell yourself, “Yes I can,” and “I’m going to do it, I’m willing to do the work,” you’re able to get through it when you have an injury. It’s not the end of the world if you get hurt. And once you heal up, you can still do mental work throughout that time and say, “How can I learn more about this from a mental or psychological standpoint?”
I had a stress fracture in my back in my freshman year of college. I was in a body cast for four months. But the whole time I was thinking about pitching and running and hitting, so when I came back, I didn’t lose anything. I lost a little weight, but I gained that back, and then I was a better player afterwards. Just like I’d never got hurt, because it’s the psychological effect of visualizing yourself doing something the right way. You can never miss a free throw in your head unless you imagine missing a free throw.
You know your body’s going to fall apart if you work too hard physically. If you lift weights every day, if you run every day, if you throw every day, you’re going to break down eventually. But if you visualize throwing, you just get tired or sleepy. So there are no consequences, no arm surgery or back injury, from overdoing it mentally. That’s where you try to make up ground on your competition.
Do you get captivated by everything?
A couple of years ago, I [thought I] could learn something new every year and be an expert at it. But the reality is that if you’re going to be an expert in martial arts, for instance, you have to dedicate a lot of time to that. And in the time you have to dedicate to that, you can’t be doing anything else, because somebody will kick you in the face.
I have a mental timeline of my life of where I want things to fit in, and I know I can’t race as much as I want to now, so the only thing I can do is build the racing business as strong as possible for myself and for my team. And that way when I’m able to do it full-time, when I’m done playing baseball, then that’s easier. And full-time racing still allows me to photograph, to travel and have a family, whereas baseball is much more demanding of your calendar and your clock on a daily and yearly basis.
Obviously baseball won’t go on forever.
Having an exit strategy of knowing what I want to do afterwards has always been important. And I got that because of being injured. When you’re sitting on the disabled list because your back is messed up or you had elbow surgery, you realize that you’re not indestructible and you can’t pitch forever. You start figuring out what can fit together. Photography and racing and writing, those all fit well together, because you can photograph, write and run a business your whole life, but you can’t race your whole life because you lose your reflexes.
Have you ever pursued screenwriting?
I have TV and movie ideas that I have in treatment phase, but I’m always looking to synthesize all my stuff together. I come up with concepts that we shoot for my website [leftylefty.com]. In L.A. it’s great because you have all those options. Some of my good friends work in the movie industry, so that allows me to stay current.
Photography and the film and TV industry have captivated me my whole life. I’ve always liked movies and stories and books and reading and writing, so it’s something that I really would like to do and the cool thing about that is that I won’t ever depend on it, so therefore I can learn and take a long time learning to get good at it.
And let your creativity run free.
Yeah, I can be as weird as I want to with that stuff because there are no consequences. Hopefully it’s not what I’m depending on to pay rent. So that’s kind of cool.
NAME: Christopher John “C.J.” Wilson
AGE: Nov. 18, 1980, in Newport Beach, California
PROFESSION: Pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, owner of Wilson Racing Mazda racing team and a Mazda auto dealership
CHARITY: C.J. Wilson’s Children’s Charities
TRANSPORTATION: Sentient Jet Hawker 800XP, Gulfstream GIV
PERSONAL: Single. Lives in Beverly Hills, California.