On Monday afternoon, Brett Eibner did something he had done dozens and dozens of times. He arrived at Kauffman Stadium for work, pushed through a doorway near the stadium’s Diamond Club and rode an elevator down three floors.
There was nothing particularly interesting about it. But as Eibner exited the elevator doors, something hit him. Maybe you could call it muscle memory.
“I’m not going to lie,” Eibner says. “I almost turned right getting off the elevator instead of turning left. I had to redirect myself.”
If Eibner would have turned right, he would have found himself at the entrance of the Royals’ clubhouse, where he spent close to two months this season. Instead, he found himself here, standing in a corner of the visitor’s clubhouse, wearing an Oakland Athletics T-shirt in the minutes before batting practice.
Eibner, 27, is still just six weeks removed from being traded to the A’s in exchange for outfielder Billy Burns. On some days, he’s still getting acclimated to his new surroundings. But as he returned to Kauffman Stadium this week, Eibner told The Star he’s both motivated and encouraged by his new opportunity in Oakland.
“There’s a zero-percent chance I ever thought in my mind that I would be traded,” Eibner said.
The deal came on July 30, just days before the non-waiver trade deadline and nearly two months after Eibner made his major-league debut for the Royals. A former second-round pick, Eibner recorded a double in his first game and a walk-off single in his second. After injuring an ankle in his fourth, he missed 15 days before returning in mid-June.
With Alex Gordon sidelined because of a broken bone in his wrist, Eibner showcased glimpses of solid power. But by late July, his average had plunged to .231 with a .286 on-base percentage. The Royals viewed Eibner as expendable because of a glut of options at the corner outfield positions. In addition to Paulo Orlando and Alex Gordon, center fielder Lorenzo Cain has logged time in right to rest his legs. The club also believes prospects Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio could be options in the long term.
The Royals, meanwhile, were intrigued at the opportunity to buy low on Burns, a 27-year-old outfielder who had a strong rookie season in 2015 before struggling this year. The team lacked depth in center field. Club officials liked Burns’ speed and defensive potential.
So on a day in late July, Eibner fielded an unexpected call from Royals general manager Dayton Moore. He was being sent to Oakland after seven years in the organization. The moment stunned him, he says, but he holds no ill will toward the team that drafted him, signed him and stuck by him during a slew of injury-plagued years in the minor leagues.
“As far as Dayton giving me a call personally, and telling me, I thought that was pretty special,” Eibner said. “It’s just kind of the organization and how they are.”
A four-game series this week allowed Eibner to catch up with longtime friends and see members of the Royals’ staff. Yet he is also concerned with making a solid September impression with the rebuilding A’s. After 30 games for Oakland, Eibner entered Thursday batting .200 (13 for 65) with a .293 on-base percentage and two homers. He started the first three games of the series before receiving a day off on Thursday.
“If somebody trades for you, they obviously see something in you,” Eibner said. “I’m just going to go out and play hard and do what I can do to take advantage of that opportunity.”
On his first day back, Eibner bounced around the infield during batting practice, chatting with Whit Merrifield and Eric Hosmer. He also soaked in a long ovation from the Kauffman Stadium crowd as he walked to the plate for his first at-bat. That part, Eibner says, did not shock him.
“It’s pretty cool to get some cheers and just welcome me back to the K,” he said. “But that’s how they are with everybody on that team over there. No matter if you’re Salvy, Hosmer or Cain or a smaller guy like myself or Whit just coming up.
“You look at (rookie Hunter) Dozier’s first at-bat. The guy pretty much got a standing ovation. So it’s cool. They’re a great fan base.”