KC shows hometown boy Butler the love
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If Billy Butler will remember just one thing from his first All-Star appearance as a Royal, it will be finding out just how Kansas City truly feels about him.
After two days of thunderous cheers and standing ovations, Butler simply was overwhelmed when it was all over as he talked to reporters following the National League's 8-0 win over the American League on Tuesday.
"I can say I've never felt that much (love) from the fans here," Butler said. "It was pretty special. But then again, I knew the fans here were pretty special.
"I won't forget this."
If Butler had any regrets, it was not giving the Royals faithful at a packed Kauffman Stadium what it wanted most: A hit from Butler.
Butler came close: He ripped a hard grounder in his first at bat in the seventh inning against Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels, but it was right at Mets third baseman David Wright. The ball handcuffed Wright momentarily, but he recovered to throw out Butler.
"I wasn't nervous at all when I got to the plate," Butler said. "I just wanted to put up a good at-bat. I hit it hard. That's all you can ask."
Butler then got another shot in the ninth with one on and one out. Baserunner Elvis Andrus took second base on defensive indifference, then moved to third on a wild pitch, giving Butler a chance to break the shutout.
That would have brought even louder cheers, if that was possible.
But on a 3-2 pitch, Butler swung through a wicked slider from Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, striking out.
"I couldn't take any pitches that were close," Butler said. "He made a good pitch on the outside corner and I just missed it."
Even a simple ground out to the infield, which was obviously playing back, would have scored the run and satisfied the Royals contingent.
"I would have loved to," Butler said, smiling. "But if I could do that anytime I wanted, it would be an easy game."
Butler's hitless night kept a rather dubious streak going for the Royals: They haven't recorded a hit in an All-Star game since Bo Jackson did in 1989, and are now zero for their last 12.
But Butler wasn't focusing on anything negative Tuesday.
Just getting selected to the All-Star game should finally serve as some validation for Butler, who has put up solid numbers from the moment he arrived in Kansas City.
Over the last three seasons, Butler has averaged .303 with 18 homers, 89 RBIs and 47 doubles. No player in baseball had as many doubles (140) over that three-year span.
Yet Butler is often overlooked nationally when observers discuss the game's top young hitters.
Worse yet, Butler hasn't even received the attention you'd expect in Kansas City. Royals fans and local media have seemed to take Butler and his offensive talents for granted, at least until now.
"He is taken for granted, and that's hard to understand," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's a guy who just consistently goes out there and does a great job. He hits for average, he is showing power this year, he's driving in runs, and he's driving in the big runs.
"But I guess because he's not flashy, he doesn't get the attention he should. I know we appreciate him. I know I do. That's why I think it's such a great thing for him to get chosen. It is a validation for him and I'm really glad for him."
Yet Butler insists he doesn't view his All-Star selection as the signature moment he has arrived in baseball.
"I've been here six years, so it's not necessarily 'arrived,' " he said. "Maybe just getting noticed for something that you've done. Every player is in here for a reason — because they're really good players — and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Butler does, however, acknowledge that he probably does get less attention than other young hitters with comparable numbers.
"It's a game where you try to be consistent," Butler said. "Most consistent players usually hang around for a long time, and I've been that for a long time now. Sometimes that gets overlooked, saying you just pencil this guy in for X amount of production and look at the end of the year and it'll be there.
"Sometimes it gets overlooked because it's not glamorous. It's not the most exciting thing to watch, but I take pride in that."
The numbers certainly don't lie. His career average is a healthy .296 with a .360 on-base percentage. He also has 90 homers, including 16 this year as he almost surely will set a career high in that category.
Not everyone in Kansas City takes those hitting achievements for granted.
"He can hit, flat out hit," said Royals Hall of Famer George Brett. "There are some good young hitters up and down our lineup, but when it comes down to it, he's the guy who gets it done night in and night out. You can just count on him.
"And here's the thing: If he gets overlooked, it's not by the other team. I can promise you that. Just look at how other teams pitch him or pitch around him. He's respected by other teams."
Butler, though, is not a household name yet around the league, as evidenced by his snubbing from Robinson Cano for the Home Run Derby.
That slight created quite the story angle in Kansas City on Monday when Cano was roundly booed when introduced at the event, and then booed each subsequent time his name was mentioned by ESPN's on-field announcer.
It got worse. In between boos, the Royals' faithful at Kauffman Stadium cheered deliriously each time Cano failed to hit a home run during the event. Cano was so rattled he didn't hit a single home run, much to the crowd's delight, and was quickly eliminated in the competition.
Butler did his best to avoid the controversy, and tried to divert attention back to how proud he was to be picked to the bigger show – the All-Star game itself.
"I'm completely OK with Robby," Butler said. "There's no issue there. We had a great talk after the event and everything is fine. Hopefully some day I will be in a position to get picked. But what really matters is being an All-Star.
Almost everyone in the media weighed in on the controversy. Even some not with the media did as well, including Kansas City Mayor Sly James.
The Mayor tweeted: "In a really weird way, Robinson Cano did Billy Butler a favor. Guy could run for mayor now. "
Butler couldn't help but be moved by all the affection shown by Royals fans. On Monday, over 40,000 of them chanted "Bill-eee But-ler! Bill-eee But-ler!" And when Butler was introduced Tuesday before the All-Star game, fans gave him a standing ovation with perhaps the loudest cheer heard at the stadium in decades.
It all confirmed what Butler already knew: He loves Kansas City and wants to stay here a long, long time.
Butler signed a four-year $30 million contract in 2011 and the Royals have an option on him for 2015.
"I'm happy here," Butler said. "This city is very special to me. This city has embraced me and my family."
Butler also used social media Tuesday to thank Royals fans. He tweeted: "Hey KC thx for the love you've showed my family and I...we've loved playing here & now the country knows why I'm gonna stay a Royal!"
Royals fans will cheer that.