One day Alex Gordon and I were talking while sitting in the Royals dugout. Laid on the dugout bench between us were three fresh pieces of gum, lined up in a row. Greg Holland walked up, grabbed one of the pieces of gum, unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth.
Alex looked at Holly and told him to go back up to the clubhouse and get him another piece of gum. Greg rolled his eyes and asked what kind. At the time, Holly hadn’t been in the big leagues that long and grabbing the piece of gum was a mistake. Greg was messing with Gordon’s pregame routine.
Some guys — and Gordon is one of them — have very precise pregame routines. Alex chews three pieces of gum every day, or at least he did back then. Alex hits the weight room every day. Alex power shags every day.
(Power shagging is playing balls hit in batting practice just like you would play them in a game; same routes, same speed, same effort. The only thing you don’t do is cut loose a hard throw — you save those bullets for the game. Royals outfielders are required to power shag for one hitting group, so naturally Alex does it for two.)
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Gordon is well-known for his pregame prep, and one day I asked him how many things he had to do to get ready for a ballgame. Alex grinned and said it was quite a list. In fact, the list was so long he wasn’t sure he could remember everything off the top of his head.
We agreed that one day I’d follow him around and write down everything he did in his pregame routine. Alex and I never got around to it, but it’s still a pretty good story idea, so I’m planning on doing it this season.
During the Royals’ recent FanFest, I walked up to Alex and said it was nice to have him back and he wrapped an arm around my shoulder, smiled and said he was never going anywhere.
That reminded me of the news conference announcing the contract Gordon signed in 2012. Alex turned to general manager Dayton Moore and said Dayton probably didn’t want to hear it right then, but Alex was going to sign for whatever the Royals offered.
When so many people were predicting that Gordon had played his last game in a Royals uniform, I thought about what Alex said to Dayton back in 2012. I wasn’t sure Alex had the same attitude this time around, but I wasn’t going to be overly surprised if Alex did the same thing again — and he did.
There’s a human element to these things that we tend to ignore because we don’t know much about players or their private lives. We look at stats and payroll and what teams need and which players are available and make predictions.
But there are some things we just can’t know.
For instance, I once heard about a player whom a team missed out on because his wife didn’t want to live in that particular city. She had lots of friends in another city, and that was where she wanted to go.
When you hear something like that, it makes perfect sense. If you were thinking about taking a job in another city, wouldn’t you talk it over with your spouse? So until we start factoring in wives and schools and commute times and neighborhoods, we’re going to have an incomplete picture of what motivates a ballplayer to sign with this or that team.
If you have a ticket in Kauffman Stadium’s upper deck this season, check out the grass in front of the Royals’ dugout. If the Royals have played enough games, there’s a good chance you’ll see two white footprints at the edge of the grass. That is where Gordon stands when he’s on deck.
Alex stands there so often, he kills the grass. The grounds crew has asked Alex whether he could vary where he stands, but most of the time that’s where you’ll see Alex take his on-deck swings. Every once in a while, the crew replaces that square of grass with a new one, but most of the time you can see Gordon’s footprints.
Like a lot of us, Alex Gordon is a creature of habit.
So knowing all this, it’s not really surprising that a guy who has to chew three pieces of gum, lift weights, power shag and stand in the same place before every at-bat wanted to stay with the team and in the town he finds comfortable.
Despite our desire to reduce big league ballplayers to a collection of numbers, these guys have wives and kids and personalities that affect the decisions they make.
There is a human element.