Butler a Yankee? Could have happened
An All-Star Game is too hectic for the broadcasters to talk about every player, so some fascinating stories never make it to air.
Not to worry. Cyberspace exists, so I can empty the notebook with some of the best things I heard and saw during FOX’s wonderful stay in Kansas City:
The Butler chose KC
Here’s the best part for all you Royals fans who are still chanting, “Bill-eee, But-ler” and sticking pins in your Robinson Cano voodoo dolls.
The New York Yankees wanted Butler in the first round of the 2004 draft.
The Royals, however, had arranged a pre-draft deal with Butler — a deal that Butler chose to honor even though he worked out for the Yankees the day before the draft.
“We liked him. Obviously, we liked him. We had him down in Tampa for a workout,” said Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, who then was working in both scouting and player development.
“I actually threw him batting practice. We were almost in the middle of the second round of BP. I don’t know, but a parent or someone said, ‘That’s it, you don’t need to hit anymore.’
“It wasn’t because we had seen enough. It was because he knew he was going to Kansas City ahead of us.”
Butler has a slightly different recollection.
“The Royals called me and pretty much negotiated the day before the draft and said they were going to draft me if I was available at that point,” he said.
“Before I could get off the field at the Yankees’ workout, they wanted to talk to me and I pretty much told them that I already had talked to the Royals and would honor my commitment.
“After that, they respected that I was going to honor my commitment, but they, obviously, wanted me at the time and they pretty much let me know that they were going to try and get me in the future, as well. True story.”
As it turned out, everyone wound up happy.
The Royals took Butler out of Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Fla., at No. 14. The Yankees grabbed their own future All-Star, right-hander Phil Hughes, out of Foothill High School in Santa Ana, Calif., at No. 23.
Butler’s .821 career OPS is higher than that of any first rounder that year. (The Pirates’ Neil Walker went at No. 11, the Diamondbacks’ Stephen Drew at No. 15, the Twins’ Trevor Plouffe at No. 20.)
Hughes, 45-30 lifetime with a 4.44 ERA, is not as accomplished as a pitcher as Butler is as a hitter. But, like Butler, he is just 26. He also is emerging as a mainstay of the Yankees’ rotation this season.
Harrison goes to the dogs
Texas Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison says of the team’s eccentric pitching coach, Mike Maddux, “He always has some kind of riddle going on.”
Case in point: The way Maddux told Harrison he was an All-Star.
“Two minutes before the (selection show) started, Maddux texted me and said, ‘What’s the name of that dog-boarding place you’ve used in the past?’” Harrison said.
“I knew he had two dogs. I figured that’s what he was asking for. He called me right after that. He said, ‘Why didn’t you answer my text?’ I said, ‘Dude, you just texted me like two seconds ago.’
“He said, ‘What’s the name of that place? Are they open on Sunday?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, man, you have to call them and ask them.’
“Then Wash (manager Ron Washington) came in. He was in the background on speaker phone. He said, ‘You have to find a place to board those dogs. You had better take them on over there. You’re going to be in Kansas City next week.’”
As it turned out, Harrison and his wife, Meghan, found a dog sitter. But funny stuff nonetheless.
Pyschological help? Not for Dunn
Harrison credits his mental development this season in part to his work with Don Kalkstein, the Rangers’ sports psychology consultant who previously was with the Boston Red Sox.
Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn followed Harrison into the FOX interview room, so we asked him if he worked with a team psychologist last season while enduring the misery of hitting .159.
“I golfed with one, man,” Dunn said.
“Not for this guy,” Dunn said, pointing to himself. “I’ve got a lot of problems. I’m scared what you’re going to find.”
Dunn, one of the game’s more carefree spirits, said he actually was OK mentally last season, thinking he would snap out of his slump each day.
“I didn’t feel like that was the problem,” he said. “I can sit there all day and excuse you to death. But no one cares.”
Sure, Nolan, pass the onions!
Even at 65, Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan remains an intimidating presence. Just ask Rangers closer Joe Nathan, who ate his least favorite food while the team recruited him last winter out of fear of offending Ryan, the club president.
A contingent of Rangers executives took Nathan to dinner at one of Ryan’s favorite haunts, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Fort Worth.
“I ate onions,” Nathan said. “I hate onions.”
Ryan, it seems, ordered onion rings as an appetizer, telling Nathan they were really good. Nathan went along, but only with great reluctance.
“I ate ‘em because I didn’t want to show any signs of weakness,” Nathan said. “I scarfed ‘em down and signed the deal shortly thereafter.”
Not a bad tradeoff — a few onion rings for a two-year, $14.75 million contract and the chance to play for the two-time American League champions.
Orioles’ Jones: Going to bat for alumni
Players sometimes are criticized for their failure to connect with those who came before them.
Consider Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones an exception.
Jones, after flying to Kansas City on Sunday night, attended a meeting at 7 a.m. Monday for the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), a charity devoted to helping members of the game’s extended family when they need it most.
“I had to go,” said Jones, a BAT board member. “The schedule is hectic, but I had to show face.”
Jones said that he remembers a statement that he heard as a member of the Seattle Mariners’ organization in 2004: “You’re going to be a retired player a lot longer than you were a current player.”
It stuck with him.
“This game gives you a lot of fortune, a lot of fame, but it can all be taken away,” said Jones, who recently signed a six-year, $85.5 million extension with the Orioles.
“Working with BAT showed me both sides. There are people who made a lot of money in this game and have nothing to show for it — because of bad investments, health, a lot of different reasons.
“There are people who really do need assistance — not help, assistance. Assistance is helping someone help themselves. Helping them is just putting a Band-Aid on it.”
He could have been Ripken’s heir
Well, maybe not, but Jones did begin his career as a shortstop. The Mariners began converting him to center at Double-A in 2005. They had just signed Yuniesky Betancourt and had Mike Morse — now 6-foot-5, 245 pounds — playing short in the majors.
Jones said that the Mariners’ minor-league coaches kept promising that he could still play some short, but as he put it, “I ain’t seen short since.”
Undaunted, Jones still takes ground balls every day.
“I’ll take ground balls with Jeter,” he said before the All-Star workout Monday. “I’m going to show him up.
“I tell everybody, at 4:30, I am the best shortstop in the game. Once the lights come on, the ball is coming too fast for me.”
Cubs’ LaHair: The modest All-Star
The Cubs’ Bryan LaHair, 29, played 970 games and had 4,051 plate appearances in the minors before finally breaking out this season.
Needless to say, his lifestyle is less posh than some of his fellow All-Stars.
Although LaHair is earning $482,500, just above the major league minimum, he said he could not afford to fly his parents, Cathy and Norman, to Kansas City, not after nine years of living on minor-league salaries.
LaHair said his wife and brother attended the game; each player receives two additional first-class tickets for guests, free of charge.
Cathy and Norman, however, had used up all of their vacation time. The flight to Kansas City from their home in Worcester, Mass., would have cost approximately $1,500 on such short notice, LaHair said, and hotel rooms were “impossible” to find.
“I don’t exactly have the money to dish it out right now,” LaHair said. “They looked into it, but it was a little too steep.”
Paulie on Ozzie
First baseman Paul Konerko, who always seems like the most sane member of the White Sox organization, was typically even-handed when comparing his former manager, Ozzie Guillen, to his current one, Robin Ventura.
“The funny thing is, both those guys, they came up together with the White Sox, the same organization,” Konerko said. “When it comes to the baseball stuff, it’s very much the same as far as what they think about certain things. But personality-wise, you couldn’t get farther apart.”
So, is it more fun with Ventura?
Konerko wouldn’t say that, recalling that under Guillen, the 2005 White Sox won Chicago’s first World Series since 1917.
“The most fun I’ve ever had is with Ozzie,” he said. “He’s nuts. Ozzie’s Ozzie. But that goes both ways. This year, it’s more reined in, steady, businesslike. That’s how it’s been from Day 1.
“When you win a World Series with somebody, there’s a connection there, a bond, no matter what. The last couple of years weren’t good. There’s no doubt. But if you look at the whole thing, it was a success with Ozzie in Chicago. There haven’t been too many World Series champions there in a long time.
“But, yeah, even he would say the last couple of years, and last year in particular, was not good for him or anybody else. It’s worked out good for both sides.”
CarGo: The Rockies rocket man
Carlos Gonzalez’s mother, Lucila, would not have made a very good scout. Growing up in Venezuela, Carlos told her that he wanted to be a major leaguer. She replied by saying that he had a better chance of reaching outer space.
“She said it was a lot easier to be an astronaut than a baseball player,” said Gonzalez, who left Venezuela to train in Tampa with an agent when he was 16.
“She had to make a decision to let me come here by myself. Be by myself, prepare myself to be a baseball player. It was tough. Your mom, your dad, they want you to stay in school. Baseball is an adventure. Not everybody makes it. Not a lot of people stay in this game for a long time.
“My mom was just telling me, I think you should stay in school and be an astronaut and forget about being a baseball player. I told my mom that if I signed as a professional, I would be a big-league player.”
He made it. With his feet planted firmly on earth.
Around the horn
• Los Angeles Angels rookie center fielder Mike Trout already has come a long way. He said it was not easy being 17 and playing for the Angels’ Rookie League club in Tempe, Ariz., and Class-A affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2009.
“The first year was tough for me,” Trout said. “I was homesick. I would call home. I would miss it so much. I would just have to sit down, play video games, try to get stuff off my mind. It was tough for me, really tough.”
• Orioles catcher Matt Wieters continues to rave about right-hander Jason Hammel, whom the Orioles acquired with reliever Matt Lindstrom in February, when they sent right-hander Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies.
“I saw him in spring. He had four plus pitches, and he was able to throw all of ‘em for strikes,” Wieters said. “I thought, ‘Somebody missed this guy.’”
Wieters also loves Hammel’s competiveness.
“He’s pissed if he throws a ball,” Wieters said.
• Attention, free-agent shoppers: The Rangers’ Mike Napoli prefers to catch.
“I’d rather catch than play first base,” he said. "Sometimes, at first base, I feel a little lost. I just want to make the routine play. Knock it down and flip it to the pitcher — that’s basically my mindset.
“I love catching. I like working with different personalities, just getting trust from pitchers.”
• Napoli also had some interesting things to say about Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish.
Earlier in the season, he found catching Darvish’s extensive repertoire so draining, he took his normal postgame trip to the ice tank and told Washington, his manager, “I’m going to get a snorkel and ice my brain.”
Napoli said that Darvish is a preparation freak, always watching video of opponents. One day, he noticed Darvish watching video and asking questions before the third game of a series against the Rockies.
“Hey, don’t worry,” Napoli told Darvish. “We’ll face ‘em in three more years.”