PAPILLION, Neb. — Wil Myers sits in a cramped video room near the Werner Park home clubhouse, the boxes and chairs forcing him to squeeze into a narrow space.
By KENT BABB
The Kansas City Star
It wont be like this forever, and Myers knows that. His days of playing in the minors, and currently for the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers, are coming to an end. The Royals could call him up at any time, though its unlikely that will happen before the All-Star break.
Theres not a day that goes by that I dont think about getting the call, says Myers, a 6-3, 210-pound outfielder. Its just one of those things. Youre so close.
He entered Wednesday leading the minor leagues with 24 home runs, but the Royals are slow-playing his promotion to the big leagues. He might be one of the minors best hitters he entered Wednesday nights game batting a combined .327 with 63 RBI this season with stints at Class AA Northwest Arkansas and Omaha but theres still more for the Royals to see.
He says he understands.
Baseball is a humbling game, he says, and he learned that the hard way in 2011.
About 180 miles south, fans are growing antsy. They write on message boards, call into radio shows and post on Twitter. Why would a fourth-place team leave a hitter with such a big future in such a small clubhouse?
For his part, Myers says hes being patient. But theres another thought that he cant seem to shake.
For me, I feel like Im ready, he says.
He thought he was ready in 2011, too. Myers started the season at Northwest Arkansas, two steps from the majors.
The kid had cruised through low- and high-A, finishing his first professional seasons with a batting average better than .300. After spending spring training with the Royals, he was assigned to Class AA. This game, he learned, isnt as easy as everyone says.
I thought I was better than I was, he says now. I got a reality check.
First, the bad luck: Running to his car in a rainstorm in April 2011, Myers slipped and injured his left knee. The wound became infected, and it eventually required surgery. Then, the hard truth: When he returned, Myers wasnt the star he had always been, the one fans and the organization expected him to be.
Before the 11 season, Royals minor-league hitting coordinator Jack Maloof insisted that Myers begin the season at Northwest Arkansas. The thinking was that a prospect who hadnt failed since before high school Myers hit .520, he says, as a freshman at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C. could actually see some long-term benefits from short-term failure.
Shaking his head now, Myers says he had no idea how that failure would feel. Through 99 games in 2011, Myers batted .254 and hit eight homers. The worst part was that he feared the failure would be permanent. At-bats became agonizing. Games felt like a chore.
I didnt even want to hit that day, he says. I didnt even want to come to the park, because I knew I wasnt going to have a good day.
But the knee healed, he reasserted himself in spring training as the next promising Royals hitter alongside Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and started this season on a tear. He agrees that it wouldnt have happened without Maloofs decision, uncomfortable as it often was, to introduce a little failure.
After batting .343 with 13 homers in 35 games, Myers was suddenly making AA look easy, the same as he did at the lower levels. Thats when he got the call. In mid-May, he was going to Omaha. One step from Kansas City.
Two players sit in the Royals clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon, a few seats apart, and smile at the thought. Moustakas and Hosmer know something about failure, and they know what life is like from Myers view, too.
When youre so close, and especially when youre excelling, it feels like nothing is impossible. The majors, though, theyre a cruel companion.
Its a tough game, Hosmer says. Its a game of failure.
Hosmer and Moustakas have, at different times and at different stages, been humbled. Hosmer made the leap from AAA to the majors, one of the toughest jumps in sports, look easy. Now that pitchers are seeing him multiple times, Hosmer has struggled. Moustakas started slowly but made the adjustment and has hit 12 homers this season.
You go a day without learning something, its a waste of a day, in my eyes, Moustakas says.
The Royals want to see how much Myers can learn, and how quickly. He already has moved from catcher to outfield, and its possible he could play third base occasionally, too. Myers also has to show that he can consistently handle breaking pitches, because theyll bite harder when he reaches the big leagues.
Mostly, the Royals want to see how Myers handles adversity, big or small, because just as it happened to Moustakas and Hosmer, at one point or another it will be unavoidable for him, too.
Small as it is this time, he has found adversity again. With statistics like Myers has accumulated, its no wonder that pitchers have gotten wise. He says hes lucky to see one appealing pitch per at-bat, because pitchers would rather walk him than test his power.
Just one of those little adjustments, he says.
Entering Wednesdays contest at Werner Park, Myers had hit one homer in his previous 11 games, and he hit .241 in the previous eight games. Another little slump. He says there have been a few 1-for-12 stretches and maybe a handful of 0-for-8 skids, too. This wouldve bothered him in the old days, he says. But 2011 put that in perspective. It made him a better, more mature player.
It was the best year I couldve had for myself, he says.
A little more failure, and a little more response, and Myers wont be a step or two from Kansas City. He will be en route.
On Wednesday, though the cries for Myers promotion have quieted in the last two weeks, Myers stepped to the plate with plenty of expectations on his shoulders. The Royals have little intention of bringing him to Kansas City unless hes ready to stay. Its better to work out the kinks here instead of 180 miles south. In his first at-bat, he was fooled on an off-speed pitch and struck out swinging. He walked back toward the Storm Chasers dugout with his head down.
I know the hitter I am; I know how confident I can be, hed said earlier. You just stay confident and know everything is going to be OK.
Two innings later, Myers stepped back in and saw one pitch, turned on it and connected. The ball flew far over the left-center field wall, and the modest crowd at the cozy ballpark gasped at the kids big-league power. Myers flipped his bat and began his trot as the ball bounced on a walkway 30 or so feet beyond the wall. It was his first homer since June 16.
Thats one way to make an adjustment. With Royals general manager Dayton Moore in attendance, maybe it pushed Myers one step closer to Kansas City but more than that, one step closer to being ready for major-league demands.
For me, Myers said, I always feel like Im ready for what the Royals expect from me. So right now, its whatever the Royals want is what I want.
A moment later, he went on.
Dont get me wrong, Im definitely ready, he said. And Im definitely looking forward to it. Im excited about it. Its whatever the Royals want. I dont want to try to rush anything. Theres still things for me to work on.
To reach Kent Babb, call 816-234-4386, send email to email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/kentbabb.