When Royals’ third baseman Mike Moustakas abruptly left Sunday’s game to rush home to California for a family emergency, it was to be by his ailing mother, Connie.
Upon his return Friday, enabled by his mother telling him “go back to work,” Moustakas didn’t want to elaborate on her illness.
But his swift action to be with her surely spoke amply to its seriousness — and thus to the conflicting swirl of emotions that had to be engulfing him as he was named an All-Star within hours of his return.
As he tried to process it all, Moustakas thought of what he was told was a “wild” scene at home when he called to break the All-Star news.
“They were just laughing, crying, having a bunch of hugs with each other,” he said.
Moustakas described his own feelings as jumbled. But he had some clarity, too.
“I know,” he said, “I made my mom proud.”
His father, Mike Sr., coached and infused a certain drive in the son, and he’ll be flying to Cincinnati for the game after what Moustakas called “a pretty long go” with Connie Moustakas’ illness that apparently became evident about a year ago.
Just as she’s always been, though, his mother will be ever-present as Moustakas says she’s “doing a little better every day.”
As she was when 7-year-old Mike was an outfielder.
“One of the mothers and I were watching, and they were picking those little weeds out there and blowing them,” she once told The Star. “I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I hope nothing goes out there.’
“All of a sudden, a ball goes out there on the fly, Mike goes up, catches it, throws it back in and goes back to picking those weeds.”
As she was when she signed off on the crazy idea to install a batting cage in the front yard of their home in the Los Angeles suburbs, where Connie Moustakas often fell asleep to the thwacking of bat against ball.
As she was when she let him swat tennis balls off their ceiling when he was bedridden with a broken ankle from playing football … or playing catch with him … or throwing some batting practice for him.
“For the longest I can remember, I don’t think she’s ever missed a game,” he said, smiling. “She took me to every practice, took me everywhere … Baseball, football, basketball, whatever it was, she was always there, always cheering, always letting the umpires know that she thought it was a ball or a strike.
“You could always find my mom.”
So as he awaited the final All-Star tally, Moustakas had some keen perspective on all of this.
“When I’m hanging out with my mom, all that other stuff doesn’t really matter to me …,” said Moustakas, who said he followed most of the Royals’ action the last few days by way of his mother having the games on TV. “It would be nice to make the All-Star game, but at the end of the day if somebody else makes it, they’re just as deserving and I get to go back and hang out with my mom some more.”
At some level, in fact, Moustakas may have preferred the alternative.
Yet this was a remarkable, indelible moment in his life on so many levels, a moment to relish even for a guy who resists the spotlight.
And it’s all appropriately amplified by the singular nature of the recognition via the Final Fan vote.
As he’s been coping with the anguish of his mother’s illness, Moustakas will join six teammates for an All-Star Game 13 months after he’d been optioned to Class AAA Omaha, his long-term Major League future seemingly in jeopardy.
The convergence of all this left Moustakas, who this season has changed his entire approach at the plate, gushing with gratitude.
To the fans who cast a staggering 19.3 million votes for him.
“Unbelievable,” he said, smiling and adding, “My wife (Stephanie) might have been a lot of that, too, and my family.”
To manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore, who made him feel at ease about going home and had reassured him “even when I was doubting myself” and being sent to Omaha — a move that he says was crucial in finding himself.
“It just revitalized my love for the game,” he said, “(and) made me remember how much I love playing baseball, especially in the big leagues.”
And to his teammates, who were checking in regularly while he was gone and cajoling votes for him and hugged him en masse after Yost called them together to announce Moustakas was an All-Star.
“It’s always nice to come back to the family,” Moustakas said. “These are my brothers.”
Most of all, though, he thought about his family back home and his mother and going back to work like she told him to in the refuge she helped him create.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “But once I get on the field and start playing baseball again, everything will be alright.”
To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian.