LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bubba Starling didnt need Lasik surgery to see he was in a different world.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Just from rookie ball last year to this, balls you think are going through the six hole are backhanded, the throw beats you and you wonder how he made that play, Starling said. Its just going to be that way.
It will be, for the rest of Starlings baseball career, which he hopes will improve two months after the laser eye surgery. Starling had said he wasnt picking up the baseballs spin during night games, and the procedure has helped.
Now, hes looking for his offensive game to catch up.
Starling broke a zero-for-25 skid with a ninth-inning single Saturday and added an RBI single on Sunday to bring his average to .215 for the Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League.
Saturday, the flare to right off a finesse lefty was a nice piece of hitting on a night when Starling made decent contact on his other plate appearances, a couple of ground-outs and a fly to left.
Starlings numbers improved the month after the surgery but have since dipped, and he finds himself in a strange place.
For the first time as an athlete, one who has thrived in multiple sports, Starling is dealing with baseballs humbling nature. During his days as a three-sport star at Gardner Edgerton High, Starling could simply out-athlete any opponent and will himself to success.
I was used to, Starling paused, not failing. But in baseball, as you move up you have to get used to that.
But its an adjustment. Just two years removed from his remarkable high school days, and a season after hitting .275 for the Royals rookie team in Burlington, N.C., Starling is struggling for an extended period for the first time.
Defensively, I feel good, Starling said.
He hasnt lost a step. On his ground outs Saturday, Starling broke from the box in a full sprint and made two easy plays close.
But Im still finding my swing, Starling said. Its a work in progress, and Im not looking at anything as an excuse. Its up to me.
The Royals had plenty of scouting on Starling, who grew up some 40 miles from Kauffman Stadium. They knew his baseball experience had been limited to high school seasons and some summer youth travel. Starling was no year-round ball player, not with football and basketball to enjoy, and this fall will mark the second time Starling will play baseball during football season.
Still, as the top-rated position player by some services in 2011, the Royals made Starling their first choice fifth overall and signed him to a bonus reportedly worth $7.5 million, enough for him to pass up an offer to attend Nebraska and play quarterback and outfield. The Royals knew Starlings development would take time.
He hasnt played a whole lot of baseball, and people dont understand that, Lexington manager Brian Buchanan said. Him being the first-round pick, people think hes going to shoot through the system.
Hes such a good athlete and has such a winning mentality, hes going to be fine. I know hes frustrated, but its part of the learning process.
So is handling the little things, like stepping into the box and not gazing at the scoreboard with your batting average staring back at you, or not trying to end a weeks slump with one swing.
Young players, when things dont go well want to speed things up and try a lot harder, Buchanan said. You cant do that, the game will eat you alive. You cant go get the game, it has to come to you.
It did, in Starlings final at-bat Saturday, when he went with a pitch on the outside half and served it to right. Five of the six previous Lexington hitters had fanned against the same pitcher.
It was a good pitch, low and away and he stayed with it, Buchanan said.
Buchanan said Starlings approach has evolved.
He doesnt take his (previous) at-bats up there each time, and he doesnt take them into the field, and thats different for a young player, Buchanan said.
Also separating Starling is an expanded athletic base. Nebraska football fans would love to see him wearing red one day, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is a recent example of a multisport prospect who gave professional baseball a shot before entering college as a 24-year-old freshman at Oklahoma State. He was the Cowboys starting quarterback for two years, including the 2011 Big 12 title season.
Starling said hell always be a Cornhuskers fan and was happy to hear about Lee Summit West two-sport star Monte Harrison committing to Nebraska. But Starling thinks baseball first.
Im having my ups and downs, Starling said. Its a big challenge, but this is what I want to do.
The Royals are patient, understanding what may lie ahead.
When he gets it, Buchanan said, hes going to get it and go.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.