VAHE GREGORIAN

Royals’ David Lough knows value of hard work

Updated: 2013-07-08T05:45:59Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

For 42 years, his father, Dennis, worked at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio.

“He built race tires. He started at the bottom, the very bottom, I think hauling tires,” Royals outfielder David Lough said. “Gradually, he worked himself to the machines, and eventually he was the guy who looked over the plant. He kind of just hit every stage.”

For 30 years-plus, Lough estimates, his mother, Denise, has been a cashier at an Acme supermarket.

“So she’s been there forever, too,” he said, with as much admiration. “It’s awesome: I appreciate my parents every single day.”

Being grounded in such stability and reality helps explain plenty about Lough, the antithesis of the insulated and detached pro athlete we see too often and hear too much about.

His roots are telling about his perseverance through an unconventional, seemingly interminable trajectory from a Division II Catholic university in Erie, Pa., where he fondly remembers having to help clear snow off the field, to becoming a 27-year-old rookie with the Royals.

And they are revealing about his broader perspective on where he stands in the big leagues, and even the course of his life, despite a breakout June that featured an extraordinary four extra-base-hit game last Sunday and left him second in batting average (.302) among American League rookies at month’s end.

“You never know what could happen in this game, you know? A life-changing event, anything could take place,” he said. “So I’m kind of just trying to build up my resume, if that’s what you call it.”

No, he’s not the scientist his older siblings became, one a high school physics and chemistry teacher, the other a chemical engineer.

And, no, he doesn’t have the business degree he started off after at Mercyhurst, where he went back last offseason to finish up a degree in sports marketing.

“I should have gotten my minor in accounting, because I was so close to it, but I think I was in an auditing class and I was just thinking, ‘Man, I really can’t see myself doing this the rest of my life,’ ” he said. “But I do know all that stuff, which I could always use in the future if I need to get a job.”

Lough’s diverse profile also includes becoming a certified personal trainer who is planning this offseason to seek his certification in strength and conditioning.

“I have the book for it and everything, so I just need to start studying up on that,” he said.

Even in the wake of becoming one of just five players in franchise history to put up a quartet of extra-base hits in a game.

“Every day, every single day, every player is earning an opportunity to play the next day, and you’re building your resume every single day,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “And what David’s done for us is be a really key contributor in the month of June, making plays and getting big hits.

“So he’s making it easy for Ned (Yost) to put his name in the lineup. But I think David, of all people, because of the challenges of each level, he’ll stay humble in knowing that it’s a tough game, and you’ve got to keep working and keep preparing and keep taking advantage of opportunities.”

By the time in 2004 that Lough was graduating from Green High School between Akron and Canton, the opportunity to play major-league baseball was far-fetched, as remote as the bleacher seats he’d witnessed dozens of Cleveland Indians games from with his family.

“I was usually at the very top of (Progressive Field), to be honest with you,” he said.

Lough was an accomplished athlete in high school in Green, but the fact he was engulfed in the whirlwind of playing four sports may have kept him from standing out as much as he might have in any one of them.

Not playing “travel” baseball and not sticking to one sport, Mercyhurst coach Joe Spano said, also kept Lough “off the radar.”

And Lough’s perpetual motion with other activities likely prevented him from having a certain depth of investment and savvy when it came to baseball.

“I didn’t have the knowledge or mental (appreciation) of the games, really,” Lough said. “I just went from one sport to the next, from practice to practice. I played soccer and football in the same season, with games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for soccer, Friday night for football.”

That was his senior year of high school, when Lough played football for the first time — and zoomed with the first ball he ever touched in a game for a touchdown on a kickoff return.

“He was just such a phenomenal athlete it was hard to describe,” Spano said.

Whatever the precise reason, Lough had no Division I baseball offers and, as far as he knows, not even a sniff of attention from major-league scouts before college.

“If scouts did show up to my games, I don’t know if they thought, ‘This kid could be something,’ ” he said.

And if the crucial ages for baseball development are 16-22, as Moore says they are, then 18-19 might be considered the very core of that.

And Lough wasn’t on any course this way at that stage.

But … so what?

He was gung-ho to be able to play collegiate football and baseball and apparently was in perfect harmony with the school’s “carpe diem” (seize the day) motto as he moved forward athletically and academically.

“Planted my own seeds,” Lough said, smiling. “Everything just kind of started to click from a baseball sense, and it just kind of took off from there.”

More or less. By the end of his junior season in 2007, Lough was third-team All-America.

But he still might not have been noticed if Spano wasn’t one to work the phone with scouts or persuade football coach Marty Schaetzle to allow Lough to perform occasional baseball auditions after football practices.

Still in football thigh and knee pads, Spano recalls, Lough would uncork dazzling sprints. Or hit balls off the school’s ice arena, some 40 or 50 feet beyond the fence.

Royals scout Jason Bryans ultimately took notice and was relentless and encouraging, said Spano, who was extra-impressed because of the Royals’ follow-through in all sorts of inclement weather.

All of which led to the Royals making him their 11th-round pick in 2007.

“He wasn’t a high selection, but that’s the beauty of baseball: The game’s the ultimate evaluator,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of players out there, and it just speaks to the importance of a player believing in himself more than anybody else does.

“Coaches are going to have their own opinions, scouts are going to have their own opinions. But the bottom line is that the only opinion that truly matters is the one within the player, and David Lough’s always had a strong confidence in himself and a desire to compete and get better.”

Moment by moment, he did, hitting .325 in two minor-league stops in 2009 to lead the organization in hitting and earn the George Brett Hitter of the Year award.

Then, after hitting .280 at Class AAA Omaha in 2010, he made the 40-man roster and hit .318 at Omaha in 2011.

As a September callup last year, Lough singled in his first career at-bat against Minnesota’s Liam Hendriks.

He was in a daze as Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was congratulating him and oblivious to whatever coaching signs he was getting.

This didn’t mean he’d arrived for keeps. And neither did his call-up this May. And neither, even, did his binge of extra-base hits last Sunday.

But …

“It was a day to remember,” Lough said.

And maybe with plenty more ahead.

“You can’t have any doubt in your ability to play up here, or the game will eat you alive,” Lough said. “Everybody knows how baseball works. Game of failure.”

So he has started on the bottom, the very bottom, and worked himself up.

But whether it stops here or comes to an inevitable end years from now, he knows the real world is a different place.

And unlike many who don’t have that understanding, he’ll have the balance and credentials to keep moving forward and up then, too.

“You can’t start early enough to prepare for it,” he said.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4366 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/vgregorian

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