Royals’ Billy Butler is enjoying his All-Star moment
Butler is good at what he does — hit. But that hasn’t led to a big-league ego.By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
A quick glance Monday at Billy Butler, and his Opie Taylor smile, should convince anyone that he is absolutely the right choice if the Royals could have only one player in the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s just a priceless feeling,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’m just soaking it all in. The city has always been great to me and my family. The fans have been amazing. And who better to share it with?”
Butler is a homegrown Royal, a first-round pick in 2004 who reached the big leagues in 2007. He is well-acquainted with the rot that comes from relentless losing and yet has always played well enough to be seen as part of a hopeful future.
He can hit, certainly, but it’s more than that.
There is a youthful innocence and open confidence to Butler that, simultaneously, makes him the butt of jokes but also gives him the ability to take the hit and return fire with a smile.
Example: A question Monday at the All-Star news conference asked Butler about his ability to maintain such consistency as a hitter. He responded, “I’d like to say it’s luck, but … ”
And there’s this: Butler genuinely revels in the nickname “Country Breakfast,” which a fan supplied, and one that often makes teammates shake their heads. That it came from a fan somehow makes it all the better.
“A lot of people love it,” Butler said, “and nicknames are a part of the game. Everybody loves a good nickname. It’s something that’s kind of stuck, and a little bit of recognition comes with it.
“It’s catchy, and I can see why you’d name me country because I’m a country boy. I could do a good sausage commercial.”
Let’s stick with food for the moment. Butler is enough of a Kansas Citian to offer a native’s typical response when asked about local dining options.
“Depends on what they’re looking for,” he answered. “If they’re going for a steak, I send them to Plaza III. If they’re looking for barbecue, and they can go outside of the Plaza, I send them to Arthur Bryant’s or Oklahoma Joe’s. Those are my two favorites.
“That’s all I know. We’re in meat country and definitely in barbecue country. You usually don’t get past those two. You get past those two, you’re probably in the wrong place.”
The sellout crowd roared Monday night each time Butler appeared on the video board during the American League workout and the subsequent Home Run Derby.
“It’s just great to be liked,” he said. “That’s all it really affirms. I was drafted by these guys. This is all I’ve ever known. And they like me. That just gives me more incentive to never want to leave. That right there … that makes you feel good.”
The crowd further showed its support by loudly booing Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano for his decision, as the AL Derby captain, not to select Butler to the four-man squad.
“It’s great that everybody seemed to be on my side,” Butler said. “I’m happy that they’re happy I’m here. That’s an awesome feeling. But me and Robby are friends. That’s the bottom line, and there’s no ill will there.”
The temptation, at times, is to portray Butler as some sort of bumpkin — OK, that’s not all wrong — but remember, too, he won the 2011 Hutch Award, which is given each year to a player who best combines on-field achievement and off-the-field community work.
Butler is also an avid sports fan. (Here’s a not-so-secret: Lots of players aren’t.) In particular, Butler is a dedicated fantasy football player — and that leads to another story, one that occurred last September while the Royals were in Seattle.
Several players clustered around a big TV in their clubhouse at Safeco Field to watch a college football game between two Southeastern Conference teams. Butler grew up in Florida, is familiar with the SEC, but is more of an NFL fan.
That led to this observation: “I don’t really like college football. The game is too slow.”
Then outfielder Jeff Francoeur boomed a response: “Slow? Watching you hit a single, that’s slow!”
The room exploded in laughter with Butler acknowledging the point. But he always has a comeback — always. He can hit.
“He can really hit any pitch,” Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson said, “whether it’s a fastball or a change-up or anything. So he doesn’t really give you a very confident feeling that you’re going to be able to get him out the same way every time.
“Some guys, even really good hitters, have a huge hole that you can just throw to all the time. But he moves around a lot, so it creates different looks.”
Manager Ned Yost puts it this way: “Billy is one of those hitters who can hit a good pitcher.”
Butler, at 26, is already climbing the franchise’s all-time leader charts and is well-established as the club’s top run-producer: He leads the club at the break in homers and RBIs while ranking second in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
His .296 career average trails only George Brett and Mike Sweeney among Royals with at least 1,600 at-bats. Butler was the club’s player of the year in 2009 and 2010 — and Brett is the only other player in franchise history to win the award in successive years.
“He can just hit,” Yost said. “He’s incredibly instinctive on how to hit. He really studies it. Crazy study. He wants to know the variance in speeds. What’s the difference in a 91- and a 93-mph fastball? I don’t know. To Billy, it makes a difference.”
Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said Butler’s search for information on opposing pitchers is wear-you-out relentless. Teammates marvel at Butler’s recall on a pitcher he might have seen for one at-bat years ago in the minors.
“I get very in-depth into it,” Butler said. “I don’t want to be left out in the dark on anything a pitcher has got. I can go up there blind and do pretty well, I think, but I want to be prepared for my job. That’s the bottom line.”
Nobody could enjoy the experience of being on the game’s biggest summer stage, at his home ballpark, more than our own Country Breakfast.
“Kansas City,” he said, “this is all I’ve ever known. Kansas City is great in so many ways. It’s been great to me and my family. It’s a great city. There are a lot of great people here, and I’ve made a lot of great relationships.
“Just to see everything around here (for the All-Star Game) is amazing. Just seeing everything they did at the team hotel. I was looking at the fountain in front of the hotel. It was amazing. I’m just soaking it all in.”