Gordon steps into spotlight for Royals
All eyes on third baseman during what could be breakout year
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Alex Gordon had just found out there was a little glitch in his biography in the Royals' media guide. His new bride was listed as Julie. Trouble was, her name is Jamie.
Uh-oh. Hopefully, that didn't hit a nerve on the homefront.
"Luckily, there's nothing in the past that's connected with 'Julie,'" Gordon said with a grin. "That'd be a little awkward."
His wife, he figured, would just get a laugh out of it.
"Nobody will probably read my bio anyway, so it'll probably work out," he said.
Fat chance. Gordon's bio gives the facts and figures on a 24-year-old third baseman who could develop into one of the premier players in franchise history.
"I'm a fan," said another left-handed-hitting third baseman of Royals fame, George Brett.
Like everyone else, Brett watched Gordon founder early in his rookie season -- when Gordon hit .173 with three homers and eight RBIs in his first 53 games.
"The thing that impressed me the most about him is that, even though he was hitting .160 for the first two months of the season, it didn't affect his defense," Brett said. "He went out and played the solidest defense of anybody in the league.
"That tells you the type of competitor he is. And from what I understand from the guys on the team, you can't tell if he's hitting .160 or .360 -- he comes to the ballpark every day ready to play. Expects to be in the lineup. And those are the guys you win games with."
Gordon did make eight errors early, but also made many stellar plays. In his last 116 games, there were a mere seven errors.
But, oh, that batting was terrible to behold. The kid had hit .325 in his first and only pro season for Double-A Wichita. He had a glossy background at Lincoln, Neb., Southeast High School and at the University of Nebraska.
"Here's a guy that's really had never failed before anywhere," hitting coach Mike Barnett said.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
"It was a miserable start and what made it worse is that we weren't playing well as a team," Gordon said. "When you're losing and you're not doing well, it kind of falls on you harder. It was definitely a difficult time."
What to do? Ship him off to Triple-A Omaha for a while? Don't think that possibility didn't come up virtually every day in the management offices at 1 Royal Way.
"For a period of time, it was the focus of my day," said general manager Dayton Moore.
Then-manager Buddy Bell, an old third baseman of Gold Glove stature, was a firm Gordon backer.
"Buddy would call me in and would reassure me, try to make me stay positive and let me know that I'm a part of this team and that I'm staying here," Gordon said.
Brett noticed that the rookie was standing close to the plate, making it more difficult to get his arms extended on a swing.
"That's a habit a lot of young players get into -- they crowd the plate. That's one of the reasons he got hit eight times the first month of the season because he was standing on the plate." Brett said.
Barnett moved Gordon off the plate, but there were other adjustments to be made. After hitting well for Wichita with his hands at shoulder height, last spring he lowered them to about mid-chest level. The hands had to come up. He also needed to straighten his stride direction, get his swing started on time and improve his weight shift.
This took time and while that was going on, Moore kept taking the pulse of the delicate situation. Every reading produced the same result: No pulling the plug, no Omaha.
"There were three reasons: The first was his approach and his consistency of work," Moore said. "His demeanor was very good. And the coaching staff and his teammates continued to believe in him. All three of those elements existed. If one of those elements didn't exist, we'd have had to think really hard about sending him down."
Finally, all the patience and all the work began to pay off. The turnaround began.
"People say it was Cleveland when I went 4-for-4, but when I finally started feeling comfortable was against the Rockies in Interleague Play," Gordon said.
The four-hit game at Cleveland came on June 7. The series at Colorado was earlier, May 17-20. Gordon was 4-for-13 in three of the four games.
"The only thing I can tell you about that is I went out there and finally started relaxing," he said. "I stopped worrying about the results and just having fun. That's when it started coming easy."
Guess so. In June he batted .327, had 14 RBIs, 10 extra-base hits and, for added fun, stole five bases in five tries. In fact, run his totals from that four-hit day on June 7 to his last four-hit game on Sept. 12 and you'll find a .309 average, 11 home runs and 49 RBIs in 82 games. He slipped in the last couple of weeks and his overall finish included a .247 average, 60 RBIs, 15 home runs and a Royals rookie-record 36 doubles.
His awakening stirred fans so much that when new manager Trey Hillman suggested in the offseason that Gordon might bat seventh in the lineup, there was a mini-uproar. Why so low?
Well, be advised that Hillman is re-thinking that.
"One of the things I keep looking at is where he's going to fall in the order. ... I really don't know, not yet," Hillman said. "It could be three, it could be five, it could be seven. It could be six on any given day. Now that I've had an opportunity to see him, I'd say it's less likely that he's going to fall in No. 7. But we'll see."
Gordon was a team leader at Nebraska, a role that he assumed in his final season there. That's something he could grow into in Kansas City as well.
"We had a great group of older guys last year -- Sweeney, who were all going to miss," Gordon said. "He's a prototypical leader and captain, so if you want to be a great leader, you have to follow in the footsteps of Mike and do what he did. Not only on the field, but off the field, he was one of the nicest guys and one of the best teammates I've ever had."
In the meantime, Gordon is preparing for Opening Day at Detroit on March 31, gearing up to avoid the pitfalls he encountered early last season.
"I don't think I've ever been through something like that. A good way to look back on it and take a positive from it is to learn how you dealt with it and got out of it," Gordon said.
Oh, how did Jamie deal with that "Julie" thing?
Gordon was right. She just laughed.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.