KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When slumping Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas got to Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, he figured he would just go through his normal pregame routine of stretching, taking infield and batting practice — all the while trying to keep his chin up.
But then Moustakas got a surprise visit from Royals legend George Brett that changed his attitude.
“He actually came down to the clubhouse and just told me to smile,” Moustakas said. “That’s what he said. He told me to smile and to have fun. And then he kind of got serious and grabbed me and told me, ‘You better be the one having the most fun out there tonight. You better be the happiest guy out there.’
“Sure enough, I went out there, forgot about my slump, and had a pretty good game (two-run homer, three RBI) and had a blast.”
At first, Brett’s advice seemed a bit unusual to the man they call “Moose” in Kansas City — Moustakas hasn’t had much personally to smile about.
Moustakas’ dreadful season-long slump reached its lowest point last week in a loss to Detroit when he committed a crucial error, then struck out three times at the plate while stranding six runners.
His average plummeted to an embarrassing low .148.
But Moose wasn’t about to question advice from a Hall of Famer such as Brett.
“Anything that George Brett tells you, you better listen,” Moustakas said. “Whatever he says, you probably know it’s going to change you. Coming from a guy of his stature, that was something. To have a guy like him come down to the clubhouse and seek me out, that was pretty awesome.”
Brett knows a thing or two about slumps. In his first full season in the big leagues in 1974, Brett was stuck in a season-long slump that carried into August and dragged his average down to .232.
But as Royals fans know, Brett famously was then pulled aside by legendary hitting coach Charley Lau, who reconstructed Brett’s swing, and the rest of course, is history.
Brett’s message to Moose, however, wasn’t about mechanics. It was about letting go of the slump emotionally.
“I’ve talked to George a little bit about his slumps in the past, and that’s kind of what he always told me, that it’s usually in your head,” Moustakas said. “That’s why he said to go out there and have a good time.
“Just go out there and smile. It doesn’t hurt, and it might change your luck. Get to the plate and smile.”
Moustakas took Brett’s advice, but only so far. He didn’t get to the plate smiling Tuesday.
“No, I didn’t smile,” he said. “I don’t know that you can smile and show up the pitcher. Inside I was smiling.
“But I didn’t have a hard time having fun. Playing baseball is supposed to be a good time. We need to enjoy it.”
Moustakas’ smiling approach coincided with two hits, including the go-ahead two-run homer in the Royals’ 8-2 win over Tampa Bay. He added a bases-loaded sacrifice fly later for an insurance run.
“I probably was stoked more for that sac fly because Ned gave me the green light on 3-0,” Moustakas said. “He was confident enough to let me swing 3-0. I got a good pitch to hit, just missed it, but got enough of it to get a sacrifice fly.”
Actually, Moose’s resurgence may have started a couple of days ahead of Brett’s visit. On Sunday against Cleveland, Moose walked three times and singled — the walks were the key.
“Absolutely, those walks really helped me,” Moustakas said. “George also always tells me ‘Have a positive day. Do something that keeps you plus-one.’ What he means is if you go out and commit an error and let a run in, well, you’re minus one. So go out then and drive in two with a hit. Then you’re plus one.
“Just try to stay positive each day. Do something that helps, whether it’s small or big.”
Moustakas said he has been through bad spells before, some equally as painful.
“Oh yes, absolutely,” he said. “There was a span one time when I went 0 for 32 and then there was another one that was one for 43. One was in high-A ball and the other was in low-A ball so it’s a little different I guess. In the minor leagues, they don’t post your average on a giant video board above center field for everyone to see.
“It’s a crazy game. You get hot and you get cold. You got to go out and battle your way through it. “