Randy York's N-Sider
My wife is not a Major League Baseball fan. She can go months without watching a game. She is, however, an Alex Gordon fan, and if she isn’t interested in following how he performs throughout the season, she’s fooling me. Whenever we’re in the family room or on the deck checking our respective iPads, I deliberately will not tell her how the Kansas City Royals in general and how Alex Gordon in particular are doing. Finally, she will ask, even though she’s a dispassionate fan with a singular point of interest … Alex Gordon, the hometown Royal who has it all.
Gordon has Big Red blood flowing through his Nebraska veins and Royal Blue dreams dating back to family vacations on I-29 to watch George Brett and Frank White field with grace, hit with reliability and inspire kids wearing blue caps and jerseys that match their snow cones and cotton candy. Since we all just celebrated the Fourth of July, let’s add a third color to the river of red blood running through Alex’s physically fit body and his daydreams of wearing a Royal Blue jersey. If Alex is the man to lead Kansas City to its first postseason game since the Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series nearly 28 years ago, he needs something else on his sparkling white uniform. For Alex, the Fourth of July isn’t red, white and blue. It’s red, dirt and blue.
Alex was just a year old and wearing diapers when KC played its last post-season game in 1985. If that’s the 12th of Never, no wonder Alex has not and will not raise a white flag as a sign of regret or surrender for deciding to stay loyal to his favorite team since boyhood. And make no mistake. He has always known about the Royals’ reputation for having a tight wallet, not to mention a less than favorable record on first-round draft choices.
From Injury-Plagued to a Shining Star
Let’s be honest here. For several years, an injury-plagued Alex Gordon was one of those first-round busts. The Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger offered up this lead about Alex in a front-page Sunday column in early May: “The Royals’ best player and example of what they’re trying to do was once their worst player and example of why they never won. This is easy to forget sometimes, now that Alex Gordon is a star. The story of where the Royals had been and where they might go is also Gordon’s story.”
Mellinger described how Gordon was once one day away from being sent to Omaha, but then writes: “Look at Gordon now. He might be the best corner outfielder in the American League. He signed long term for maybe 60 percent of what he could have had on the open market. He is a homegrown star in an organization that can’t win without them. He is the biggest story for a franchise desperate for more.”
Dayton Moore, the Royals’ general manager who remained loyal to Gordon because Alex stayed true to him, calls the Alex Gordon Story “the best thing I’ve ever experienced in sports. Watching Alex transition to the major leagues and what he went through … he maintained his steadiness, his work ethic, his positive approach and belief.”
Desperate Measure: Move to Left Field
Indeed. Kansas City Royal fans remember the comparisons that haunted Gordon in his early days. Three years ago, the player they called “The Next George Brett” looked more like “The Next Clint Hurdle”, according to Mellinger, and this is where the ex-Husker’s climb to the top becomes so interesting. The Royals were so desperate they told Gordon to switch from third base to left field. “He took it without ego, told the world he planned to dominate, and the world responded with mostly laughter,” Mellinger wrote, going on to observe how Gordon worked his way into a four-year, $37.5 million contract “and has since outperformed it.”
In other words, for Kansas City, for the Royals and for all their fans across the country, Alex Gordon was worth the wait. He became the team leader in almost all hitting categories and is working diligently on a third consecutive Gold Glove award. If you think you’re going to get Gordon to talk about his unexpected ascent, think again. He’s too busy zeroing in on his daily regimens that have taken him this far and too humble to marvel at how fast he picked himself up, dusted off his dirty uniform and kept fighting the good fight and, at the same time, exhorting his teammates to dig down into their own competitive psyches and have some fun playing the game. No one mentions how hip surgery allowed Gordon to play in only 49 games in 2009 and how a broken thumb limited him to only 74 games the following season. “Health is the big key to every baseball season,” he said. “Injuries can really mess up your strength and your timing. That’s the big key to playing 162 games.”
In May, we connect with Gordon on an off day. He talks about his parents and kids, his grandparents and his wife’s family. He admits he became a die-hard Kansas City fan “by default” because the Royals played only three hours from home. They were, are and always will be most Nebraskans’ favorite hometown team. Gordon grew up in Lincoln identifying with the Royals, and he’s always wanted to be part of their homegrown talent. He understands why fans like to carry bits and pieces from a stadium because sitting in those seats and watching Major League Baseball were some of the best moments of their lives.
Forget the Expensive Food ... Eat a PBJ
Gordon was disappointed he missed the opportunity to play in the 2012 All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. He talks about the classy makeover of a stadium he’s always loved and how lucky he feels to come to work early every day. Gordon takes every available opportunity on game day. He restricts his pregame meals to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and postpones his unlimited catering choices until after the game. He’s a big fan of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza and enjoys experiencing the revitalized downtown scene, anchored by the Sprint Center. As much as he loves Kansas City, Alex and Jamie Gordon, his wife, decided to build a house in Lincoln, and he marvels at some of the facilities Lincoln will unveil – the new Pinnacle Bank Arena for basketball, the expanded Memorial Stadium that will hold 92,000 fans, the East Stadium expansion that will bridge academic research with athletic research and innovation. The thought of Nebraska being a pioneer keeps racing through Gordon’s mind, and it’s all happening in the Big Ten Conference, the nation’s biggest, oldest and wealthiest league in intercollegiate athletics.
With kids and family surrounding him in Lincoln and in Kansas City, Gordon finds himself experiencing some of the same places Husker fans choose, such as Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. He relishes eating at a Brazilian Steakhouse on the Plaza and at The Jazz Kitchen on the Kansas side. He also recommends Oklahoma Joe’s as one of the best of many great Kansas City barbecue houses.
Gordon works out more than he eats. He sets strict daily standards for his food consumption, his cardio, his lifting and his strength. “I do everything humanly possible to prepare myself for every game,” he said. “I get to the clubhouse early to do what I need to do and to get myself mentally prepared to play.” He likes every chef that prepares special food in the clubhouse, but he always shows restraint in his choices.
From Bus Rides to a History Lesson in Boston
Sometimes, he thinks about his rookie year in professional baseball and how three buses took his team almost everywhere. He remembers how his first minor league game went 18 innings and took six hours to play in Tulsa. He played third base and went for 2-for-6 in his first game as a pro.
When you play professional baseball, you remember down time every bit as much as the highlight reel that keeps playing in your mind. Alex will never forget, for instance, being in a Boston hotel on the same day the city stood still in the aftermath of two radical terrorists detonating bombs at the Boston Marathon. The scene becomes surreal when you look out the window of your hotel room and see the same thing you’re watching on TV
Yes, Gordon could see the FBI live in person and CNN live at the same time on TV. That experience made him think, but also made him proud to be Husker and an American simultaneously. “I will never forget how all those people helped the city do what it needed to do,” Gordon said, “and I will always remember standing on the field the next day at Fenway and watching Neil Diamond entertain everyone in the eighth-inning. He was at the game, and they asked him to sing when he got there.” Alex Gordon plays golf, but does not play many card games because he wants to focus on the game that pays him for playing, not one that just entertains him. “The game of baseball has changed a lot,” Alex said, explaining how close he is to most of his teammates and how almost everyone in the league reminds him of one big, happy family.
Gordon Respects Erstad’s Tenacity, Approach
Alex knows Darin Erstand, and he respects Nebraska’s head baseball coach. “He brings a lot of experience back to Nebraska,” Gordon said. “He plays the game right and respects the game. I’ve gotten to know him more, and he definitely knows what he’s doing. I think it’s great that he schedules all of those tough teams in the early season, so it can pay dividends when the conference season rolls around and the NCAA is trying to decide who belongs in the tournament.”
Alex Gordon looks at the world, examines it, processes it and competes as single-mindedly and relentlessly as anyone. He delivers a bases-loaded, two-out walk-off single in the 10th inning to beat the Chicago White Sox in early May. Ten days earlier, he crushes a 10th-inning pitch into Detroit’s center-field shrubs for his first major league grand slam to help the Royals beat the Tigers, 8-3. I remember someone online saying: “I’m not sure how far Alex just hit the first grand slam of his career, but I feel sorry for the baseball.”
It was an elegant moment for all of us who watched Alex play in the College World Series and wondered if the Lincoln Southeast graduate could someday find himself in MLB’s World Series. If not that, maybe Alex can make the All-Star Game, the Midsummer Classic that can draw in even the most detached fans.
He’s a Husker; He’s Humble; He's an Icon
On the night Alex hit his walk-off grand slam, I asked my wife why she’s enamored with Alex Gordon, especially when she doesn’t care much about anything else that surrounds his 162-game regular season. “I like Alex because he’s from Lincoln, he’s a Husker, and he’s so humble,” she said. “He’s an icon, isn’t he?”
In Nebraska and in Kansas City, it’s hard to dispute that statement. Just the thought of Gordon emerging into an icon makes me pause and measure why he already fits that description to me.
I like Alex because his grandfather was the baseball coach at Lincoln Southeast and he grew up with older brothers who let him tag along and play at a higher level, even when he was in junior high. I like him because he’s a lifelong Kansas City Royal fan, and he accepted a lot less money so he could stay home and live his boyhood dream, and we can all watch him, keep track of him and root for him.
Easy Self Service and Quick Trip on I-29
We don’t have to fly to Boston or New York to see him play. We can buy and print our tickets online, jump on I-29 and be sitting in our seats inside Kaufman Stadium 3½ hours later. For us, Alex is iconic ... a homegrown hero who truly does have it all and is still doing everything physically, mentally and psychologically possible to be an All-Star and to get the Kansas City Royals back in postseason play. That would definitely curtail his Nebraska football tailgate ritual, not to mention dramatically increase the demand for all his buddies wanting to see the Royals live at the K.
Of course, there are no guarantees that Alex would be the catalyst that transforms that dream into reality. But that’s what icons do, especially one with red blood, a blue-colored fantasy and a white uniform that no doubt will be covered in dirt. If you want to know a little secret, Alex Gordon applies some dirt to the back of his jersey before he even takes the field. It’s fun. It’s beautiful, and it’s more iconic than it is ironic.
Alex Gordon has one of baseball’s smallest egos, and he would slide head first into every base to help his team win. That’s the heart inside that #4 on his uniform. Alex wants to break baseball’s longest postseason drought not only for Kansas City and for the Royals, but for all the Husker fans who find him in Spring Training and yell “Go Big Red!” in his honor at every stadium he plays in. Who knows? Come October, when Husker fans see Gordon and salute him with Nebraska’s signature line, maybe he’ll nod his approval and come right back with the perfect response ... “Go Big Blue!”
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