Hard work finally pays off for Royals’ Alex Gordon

Why it took so long for Kansas City’s can’t-miss kid to quit

missing is anybody’s guess.

Also unknown is exactly what the lean, laconic Nebraskan did to

cure his ailing swing during long and intense sessions last winter

with batting coach Kevin Seitzer.

What is plain for everybody to see about Alex Gordon is the .354

batting average and 15-game hitting streak he’ll take into Friday

night’s game at Texas.

Finally, after enough problems and frustrations to last an

entire career, Gordon may be starting to fulfill the vast promise

everyone saw in the overall No. 2 selection from the famous draft

of 2005.

”One thing to his credit is he’s never felt pressure from

outside,” said Seitzer. ”All the pressure was what he put on

himself.”

Another open question is whether Gordon’s sizzle will ultimately

fizzle. It is, after all, a long season. And if Gordon’s learned

anything since starring at Nebraska as the college player of the

year, it is that baseball at the highest level is as tough to

predict as to play.

”It’s early,” he said, politely declining to speak in detail

about his hot start.

Gordon has played about as well as anyone in the major leagues

so far this season, both at the plate and in the field. In a 3-2

win Thursday night over Cleveland, he had a double in three at-bats

and made an outstanding play from left field, throwing out Grady

Sizemore at third.

In a 5-4 victory over the Indians on Tuesday night, he had a

signature game, collecting two hits with a run scored and an RBI,

stealing two bases and making two great plays in left. He threw out

a runner at the plate and, helping thwart a Cleveland rally, made a

diving catch of Sizemore’s sinking liner in the ninth.

”He had a phenomenal night. He did it all,” said manager Ned

Yost, who has made Gordon his No. 3 hitter.

Gordon was supposed to be playing like this all along. But while

others taken behind him in 2005 – guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan

Braun and Ryan Zimmerman – have rocketed into stardom, Gordon has

struggled.

Finally, plagued by injury and hounded by ineffectiveness, he

was told last year to move from third base to left field and

returned to the minors.

It looked for all the world as though Gordon was entering the

final stages of a failed career, doomed to go down as one of those

supposedly surefire prospects who flames out and is never heard

from again. He hadn’t played in the outfield since his freshman

year in high school.

And so with a mediocre career average of .244, Gordon turned

himself over to Seitzer. The two had worked well together the

previous year but a hip injury slowed Gordon’s progress.

Early last December, they went to work.

”I basically wanted him to forget his old swing, what it felt

like,” said Seitzer. ”And we started. We did a month of solid

drills.”

Gordon was allowed to take only 10 regular swings every 45

minutes for four days a week.

”I didn’t let him start hitting normal until January,” said

Seitzer. ”All we did was drill work to loosen up his upper body

and change his swing path to where he was more inside, on and

through the ball instead of getting in and out, getting tight. That

was the biggest thing.”

One rap on Gordon had been that he did not always take

instruction easily.

”He said, ‘I’ll do anything you tell me,”’ recalled Seitzer.

”And he did. He goes, ‘When can I swing normal?’ I said, ‘I don’t

want you to remember what normal is. It’s going to be a

while.”’

As Christmas approached, Seitzer sensed his pupil was getting

restless.

”He goes, ‘Nope. I’m not. I’ll do them as long as you tell me

to,”’ the coach said. ”He completely turned himself over. He

didn’t ask questions. He didn’t want to know why. He understood we

were changing things and he just did what I told him.”

Gordon said he did not change his swing completely and that most

of the adjustments were mental.

”The only thing with my swing is I’m getting ready a lot

earlier,” he said. ”So I’m on time with everything, ready to hit.

So if you’re throwing me a fastball, I’m ready to hit it. I’m never

late or anything like that, never caught in between.”

Seitzer refuses to elaborate on the drills and exercises he put

Gordon through, equating it to a safely guarded recipe.

”Explaining it wouldn’t make any sense. It would have to be a

thing you’d see on video and I wouldn’t put it on video because

that’s what we do,” he said. ”That’s our secret sauce. It’s easy

to talk about what a hitter needs to do and the mechanics. But the

secret sauce is using drills in order to get that to come

out.”