Royals unite father and son

06/16/2013 4:25 PM

06/16/2013 4:25 PM

Rusty Kuntz has missed all of his family’s birthdays and anniversaries.

He’s missed the majority of his son’s baseball games, going as long as eight years without watching Kevin play the sport they both love.

He missed watching Kevin grow up, leaving his wife, Salli, to wear all the hats: the mom, the dad, the driver, the chef, everything.

The regret often tugs at Rusty, but 35 years later, he still sports the No. 18 uniform.

But now the limited time spent with his family, often discussing baseball strategies and situations, has finally paid off for Rusty, the Royals’ first-base coach.

Kuntz received an early Father’s Day present last weekend when he heard that Kevin was joining him in the professional baseball lifestyle.

Kevin, a 22-year-old recent Kansas graduate, became part of his dad’s extended family when he was selected as the Royals’ 28th-round draft pick. It’s a dream come true for Kevin and a proud moment for Rusty.

“Mostly just grateful that the Royals took a chance on him and gave him an opportunity to live out a boyhood dream,” Rusty said.

Kevin, who played shortstop at KU, said it was his destiny to follow a baseball career.

“This is pretty much what I wanted to do since I was a little kid to try to play as long as possible and get to the big leagues someday,” Kevin said.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride for the Kuntz family. They are often physically separated by baseball’s demands, but the same sport keeps the family on the same page, Salli said. It acts as the connection among the three.

“It’s just one of those things, just a bloodline,” Kevin said.

But he is also open to other ideas regarding his future. Kevin first wants to take a go at the big leagues but eventually end up coaching. When he decides to make that switch, he’ll have his dad to thank.

Kevin is eyeing a coordinator position with focus on the outfield, base running and bunting, despite his infield skills. That coordinator position is similar to what Rusty does with the Royals, and Kevin’s knowledge stems from Rusty’s.

“I hope he does what he wants to do,” Rusty said, “but in a nutshell, I don’t know if he’s going to have that much chance to (be) something different than I’ve been.”

Although his son isn’t “tooled out” in any aspect of the game, Rusty said, Kevin’s in-depth knowledge is what will set him apart from his teammates. Kevin will have a better comprehension of the game than other coaches, Rusty speculates, because of his prolonged and early exposure to the game.

Rusty once said to his son, “It would be a shame if you don’t continue to go through with it.”

Baseball is deeply rooted in the family tradition, but with Kevin’s signing, the Kuntz family has the opportunity to break part of that routine: to reunite for the first time in years.

With his upcoming 60th birthday, Rusty is considering what his future holds.

He anticipates leaving his post with the Royals in the near future, maybe even within one or two years.

He might return to his rover position to get his “baseball fill without the demand.” That freedom last year allowed Rusty to attend 40 of 56 of Kevin’s games at KU.

And now that Kevin has begun his professional career, Rusty wants to take full advantage of that.

“I need to slow it down a little bit, pay attention to my wife more and see what Kevin’s all about and all that kind of stuff,” Rusty said.

Maybe “that stuff” can also include celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and Father’s Days with his family.

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