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If you're one of the American League's leading hitters and Monday is one of those rare full days off, what do you do to get away from the pressure and the constant grind?
If you're 27-year-old Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals, you climb in your car with wife Jamie and nearly 8-month-old son Max and head straight to your "home" away from home. That would be, let's see. Oh yes, that would be Lincoln, Alex Gordon's hometown and soon to be his family's "off-season" home as well.
That's right. Alex and Jamie Gordon, Lincoln natives who now live in Overland Park, Kan., made the decision to build a home in East Lincoln, and they dashed back to Nebraska to finalize those plans on Monday.
That means home base for two of Nebraska baseball's most storied players is now the same city. North Dakota native and 14-year major league player Darin Erstad, now the Huskers' volunteer assistant coach, made the same decision to move his family to Lincoln two years ago.
The N-Sider caught up with Gordon before he returned to Kansas City for a Tuesday night game against the Baltimore Orioles. He went 0-for-4, but walked and scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning of the Royals' 6-5 triumph. Please join our conversation with what is now a .328 hitter, but still one of the American League's leaders in every major individual batting category through the first month of the season.
In Major League Baseball, Health Means Everything
Q: Because hip surgery allowed you to play in only 49 games in 2009 and a broken thumb limited you to only 74 games last season, how does it feel finally to be healthy?
A: Health is the big key to every baseball season. Injuries can really mess up your strength and your timing. I'm just thankful that I've been healthy and hope I can be for the rest of the season. Ask anyone who's been through major league baseball. It means everything to be healthy.
Q: What is it about Lincoln that makes someone who grew up here want to live here and raise your own family?
A: Jamie grew up in Lincoln, too. She got her bachelor's in education at Nebraska and got her master's at Kansas. Raising children is a full-time job. Her family lives in Lincoln and mine does, too. Lincoln has that home-town feel for both of us. When you grow up in Lincoln, it feels like home whenever you go back.
Q: You've also found a comfortable home in Kansas City's outfield. Is it true that until the Royals moved you into left field last season, the only other time you played that position was in American Legion baseball as a high school freshman?
A: That's right. My older brother, Eric, was a senior and the third baseman on that team at the time. I was into being a shortstop or third baseman, but our coach, Mike Dobbs, wanted me to play the outfield. He thought that would help the team the most. That was the only year I'd ever played in the outfield
Q: Mike Dobbs, the ex-Husker pitcher, was your Legion coach? He's one of our Athletic Department's fund-raising officers now. Did he see something others should have figured out?
A: I do like it out there. I'm really enjoying it right now. Maybe Mike Dobbs was on to something. I just know that I feel comfortable in left field. It's been a good change for my career.
Q: I see your fielding percentage is 1.000. You've handled all 60 chances that have come your way this season and have thrown out five runners from left field. Do you enjoy using that "hot corner" arm in the outfield?
A: I think so. My infield instincts help me in the outfield. I try to field the ball quick and release quick so I can throw out some runners.
Q: I also noticed you've started three games at first base, another one of your old positions, and fill in there when needed.
A: It's usually for a pinch runner at the end of the game. You do whatever you can to help the team.
Q: You and Erstad were both All-Americans, No. 2 and No. 1 picks in the first-round of the amateur draft and decided to make Lincoln home. Even though there's quite an age gap, ever get the chance to talk to Darin about baseball or life in general?
A: I haven't. I would like to, but I'm off playing baseball and he's coaching. We grew up doing the same thing and walked the same path, so yeah, eventually, I hope we can cross paths and share some experiences.
Royals Capable of Competing Now for the Playoffs
Q: Now that you're in a groove, what kind of dreams do you have about Kansas City doing something special and building a contender?
A: I know a lot of people are talking about our youth and the future, but I'm just focused on the season right now. We have a team that's capable of going out there and competing right now for the playoffs. We're living in the moment and whatever happens later is going to happen. We developed some chemistry at spring training with this young group of guys. We get along all the time - off days, after the games, even after practice. I think that's a big key to playing 162 games, knowing that guys get along and want to have some fun. And that's what we're doing right now. It makes baseball a lot easier.
Q: What do you do in Kansas City to chill, relax and have some fun?
A: We just like to go over to someone's house and hang out ... spend time with each other. That's what we did growing up. Just being together was fun enough and low key. For us, that's all it takes to have fun.
Q: The remodeled Kauffman Stadium is a showcase. What do you rave about when you show it to friends and family?
A: I just like the history of it. They could have gone ahead and made the changes they were talking about and built a stadium downtown. I'm glad they didn't. This stadium had a lot of history to it for me, growing up. When I was younger, we'd come to games here, and it's still pretty cool to be able to play in the same facility I grew up watching.
Q: You're busy and highly focused. Do your families see most home games in person?
A: Basically, most of our family gets to watch me play and come to the house and stay with us. We love that I was drafted by a team so close to home, so everyone can be a part of it. We feel very fortunate to be able to spend so much time with our families.
Q: Do you stay in contact with some of your Lincoln Southeast friends or college buddies?
A: We're all still friends, but we're also all really busy, so we stay in touch with a text here and there.
Q: Speaking of old friends, the Royals beat Brian Duensing and the Twins in KC last weekend. You were a groomsman in his wedding, and he was in your wedding. Were you able to share a private moment with your college roommate and teammate?
A: We've been good friends since college. We didn't get together off the field, but we got together on the field to say hi and talk a little bit to catch up. It was good to see him, but we'll catch up when we go to Nebraska in the off-season.
Favorite Hangout for Baseball Families: Football Tailgates
Q: Where do you get together in Lincoln?
A: I come to every football game. Some of our old baseball team has a tailgate before football games. We all like to come back, hang out and get together with family and friends. Ohio State is the biggest home game this fall, and some of the guys I play with on the Royals are already asking for tickets to that one.
Q: Go back to that first time you wore a Royal uniform in a major league game. Through all the ups, downs, triumphs, disappointments and injuries, what's the difference wearing that jersey now as a more confident and more mature athlete?
A: Just the experience of playing in the big leagues as long as I have. The more experience you have, the more confident you get. I've put in a lot of hard work during the off-season and during spring training to get where I am this year. So much of baseball is believing in yourself and gaining the confidence it takes to compete day in and day out.
Q: What's the greatest life lesson that baseball has taught you?
A: Staying humble. I'm very fortunate to be in the situation I am, and I will never take that for granted. I try to go hard every day I'm at the park and take advantage of the opportunity I have. Hopefully, it will pay off.
Q: Best piece of advice anyone's ever given you?
A: When I was really young, my dad always told me how important it was to work hard. When I got older, went off to college and went to the major leagues, I learned how true that really was.
Q: Any motto you try to live by every day?
A: Every day I go to the park, I try to have a smile on my face and try to have fun. If every guy comes to the park doing that, it rubs off on the people around you.
Q: You work every summer week and weekend. When and where do you vacation?
A: It's winter time every off-season, so the family tries to go somewhere warm where there's a beach. We'll spend a week in Mexico or go other places we haven't been.
Best Day for a Daydreamer: Postseason Play
Q: Your daydream is something you're now living every day. What else do you dream about?
A: I've always wanted to qualify and play in the postseason. I was able to do that in the minors, and that was one of my favorite years because we were winning. I just want to have that experience here in Kansas City, and we're hoping that this year could be the year.
Q: Last question. What's the key to make sure your momentum can continue?
A: Just stay positive. Go to the field every day to work hard. That's all you can do, and whatever happens on the field happens. I just try to enjoy the game and give 100 percent to it every time I step on the field. If you do that, things usually work out.