Royals eyeing high school phenom Bubba Starling

Once a year the St. Louis Cardinals come to Kansas City and

remind the Royals how dumb they were in 1999.

That’s the year Bill Althaus of the Independence, Mo., Examiner,

practically pleaded with the front office to take a look at this

muscular kid he’d seen belting tape measure home runs for Ft. Osage

High, a short drive from Kauffman Stadium.

They did. But they decided the big youngster lacked a true

position and was probably going to have trouble keeping his weight

down. So they sat by while St. Louis drafted Albert Pujols and

molded him into a three-time National League MVP, one of the most

feared power hitters of his time.

Compounding the Royals’ embarrassment, the greatness that got

away is put on full display year after year when the Cardinals play

interleague games in KC. With friends and family cramming the park,

Pujols has reached base in every game he’s ever played in the home

park of the home town team that snubbed him.

Now, 11 years later, can the Royals afford to let it happen

again? It’s a different administration, a different general

manager. But can they take a chance on letting another potential

superstar from their own neighborhood slip through their

fingers?

It’s a decision they’ll face on Monday night if local high

school legend Bubba Starling is still available when the Royals

pick overall No. 5.

Unlike Pujols, whose vast potential was suspected only by a few,

Starling is practically a household name among sports fans in

Kansas City and wherever major league scouts and general managers

discuss great 5-tool prospects.

A multisport star for suburban Gardner-Edgerton High School just

southwest of Kansas City, Starling was the Kansas high school

athlete of the year. According to his growing legend, the modest,

well behaved Bubba hits 500-foot home runs, throws a football 55

yards from his knees and dunks over basketball players who stand

half a foot taller.

Carrying 200 pounds on a chiseled 6-foot-5 frame, he’s the best

high school athlete in the draft, according to Baseball America.

And he certainly is no secret to the Royals. They’ve been courting

him since he was 14, bringing him to games, letting him hit in

their indoor facility.

But, there’s a catch. A big catch. Besides being a standout

outfielder, he was a great high school quarterback who rushed for

2,471 yards and 31 touchdowns his senior season. Recruited by just

about every major program in America, he picked Nebraska.

As the baseball draft approaches, the Huskers are reminding him

almost daily of their promise to also let him play baseball.

The Royals aren’t saying what they’ll do if Bubba’s on the

board. If they pass on him, fans are sure to be upset.

”What I would say is that it’s obviously an important question

for our organization and for the Kansas City community,” said

general manager Dayton Moore. ”But it’s very inappropriate for me

to comment at this time about any individual player. It’s not fair

to the player, it’s not fair to our organization, and it’s not fair

to the other 29 organizations.”

Starling’s mom works at the high school and his dad is employed

by an excavating company. There are also two athletic sisters in

the modest, close-knit home which didn’t have cable TV until last

year.

With superagent Scott Boras as his advisor, and wielding serious

leverage in the form of a Nebraska football scholarship, Starling

will probably command a signing bonus in the $6 million-$8 million

range no matter who drafts him.

Could the family turn down such money? Could any family?

It’s going to be a tough decision.

In a twist, Boras, in this instance, will in effect be working

on behalf of the club who drafts his client because he’ll be doing

his best to talk Bubba into a baseball career.

Rest assured the Cornhuskers won’t sit silently by. Athletic

director and former coach Tom Osborne recently sent a handwritten

note telling Bubba he could be another Eric Crouch, who won the

2001 Heisman as a Nebraska quarterback. When Nebraska fired its

baseball coach, football coach Bo Pelini grabbed the phone and

spoke reassuringly to Bubba.

”Bo told him, `Hey, coaches have no control over that. When

it’s time to go they’re going to get rid of you,”’ Jimbo said.

Bubba insists he’s not made up his mind.

”No way,” he said. ”I’ll just wait and see.”

Jimbo Starling insists the final decision will belong to his

son.

”He loves football,” he said. ”He loves baseball, too. He

also loves basketball. That’s the thing. Whatever he chooses, he’s

got to excel in. He’s going to be pretty special at it. Whatever he

chooses, his family will support him all the way.”