There's a lot going on under the bill of minor-league pitcher Kevin Lenik’s Royals cap.
Coded messages are scribbled all over.
On the left is F.P.S. and (1-1)*. The right side has a cross. Down the middle, Lenik has written the words: Breath, Focus, This Pitch.
Those last four words are a reminder to Lenik, who is in his first major-league spring-training camp after a long and winding road in baseball.
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“It helps to read it during the game,” Lenik said. “When everything’s coming at you, you just take a deep breath, focus, this pitch, that’s all you can control. Not the last one, not the next one. Just play in the moment. That’s really what I try and do.”
It was one pitch that ended his time in the Dominican Republic last October after just one game.
While with Tigres de Licey in the season opener, Lenik was hit in the face by a batted ball while pitching. He suffered facial fractures in three different places.
“I just remember throwing the ball and it gets hit and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s coming at me,’ “ Lenik said.
The ball hit Lenik’s left eye and caromed into the outfield. He then heard a ringing in his head and tried to determine how badly he was hurt.
“I felt my face to see if I was bleeding,” Lenik said, “and I thought, ‘No, I’m not bleeding. Oh, there’s a runner on second, I’ve got to go back up home.’”
He didn’t. The runner had scored and Lenik was still next to the mound when the team trainer met him.
“I think he was a little more scared that I was,” Lenik recalled. "He said, ‘what happened?’ I said, ‘I should have thrown the slider.’”
Lenik, a right-hander, never fell to the ground and told the trainer he wanted to stay in the game.
“He said, ‘No, no, no. You’ve got to come out of the game.’ I guess my face was swollen pretty bad at the time,” Lenik recalled.
Lenik was taken to the hospital and had a positively unique experience.
The Tigres game was on television in a waiting room when Lenik walked in still wearing his uniform. Others there recognized him immediately.
“They were coming in, asking for autographs, asking for pictures, which I did,” Lenik said. “I wasn’t going to turn them down. Honestly, it was awesome.”
Lenik, who is 6 feet 5 and 225 pounds, was told to take four weeks off from all baseball activities, but was working out after 21 days.
Now he’s getting his feet wet at Royals’ camp this spring. In four appearances covering five innings, Lenik has allowed one run.
“I heard a lot about him last year in Triple-A,” manager Ned Yost said. “He was going good. Live stuff, on the attack, really good slider, throws strikes, what you like about most pitchers.
“Guys that are going to be good, they’re going to be good because they’ve got really good stuff, they’ve got live stuff, they’ve got great action on their pitches and they throw strikes. So far in spring, he’s done that.”
Lenik has made a remarkable rise through the Royals system. Undrafted, he signed with the Rangers, who released him in 2016 after a brief stint in the minors. Lenik went to the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League last year. He signed with the Royals in June and within a month moved from Rookie League ball to Class AAA Omaha.
In 12 games with the Storm Chasers, Lenik had a 1.88 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 24 innings. Credit those messages on his cap. FPS is throw a first-pitch strike. And (1-1)* means win the 1-1 count.
Lenik likely won’t break camp with the Royals. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but he’s just 26 years old and could be a pitcher the team leans on in the future.
While talking to a reporter in the Royals’ spring-training clubhouse, Lenik said he was blessed (as the cross on his cap indicates). That line drive off his eye could have much more serious.
“I got lucky. I definitely had some angels watching over me, because there were some other people that got hit in the face that weren’t so fortunate,” Lenik said. “They lost vision, had headaches, had pain. I honestly had no pain. Weirdly enough. I guess the adrenaline just took over.
“It was an experience that I will never forget. It was unbelievable. I’m very, very fortunate, very thankful I got the opportunity to do that. I told them when I was leaving that I would be back next year.”