Wil Myers is in Kansas City, again, which means someone brings up the fountain story. Again.
In the beginning, they told the story about Myers as a symbol of his confidence. His cockiness. Which is strange, because, as far as stories about someone’s swagger go, you can’t do much better than the time George Brett (George Brett!) tried to show Myers how to use pine tar ( pine tar!!!
) and Myers, then a minor-leaguer, essentially responded by saying, “Thanks George, but I’ve got this.”
But, somehow, the fountain story got the traction that the pine-tar story never had, so now when Myers comes back to play against the organization that drafted him, he knows he’s going to be asked about the fountain story. You’ve probably heard the fountain story, but when Myers came to Kansas City for his predraft workout in 2009 and asked for the fountains to be turned on. Someone asked him why.
“I want to hit some home runs into them,” he said.
The Royals drafted him, and for a while he was the one people thought would break Steve Balboni’s franchise home-run record. But Myers is with the Rays now, their property in exchange for James Shields in the blockbuster trade before last season that defines so much of the Royals’ present and future.
He’s had a slow start so far this season — he’s hitting .185, including zero for four in a 4-2 win for the Royals over the Rays on Monday — but this is one of the game’s bright young sluggers. And now he’s in Kansas City, standing in front of a locker in the visitors’ clubhouse of the stadium with the fountains, so he knows what’s coming.
“That story still haunts me,” he says. “It is true.”
A few seconds go by. Someone laughs. Myers is in on the joke.
“I did say that,” he says. “I was 18, all right?”
This is now Myers’ curse within the game, the story that won’t stop following him. Other ballplayers. Scouts. Many of them will always associate Myers with the fountains story. But around Kansas City, with Royals fans, he’s that pretty pre-med who broke up with you your junior year of college — the one who got away.
For much of Kansas City, following the Royals means three things — dreaming big when they win, blaming Ned Yost when they lose, and in between, checking Rays’ box scores expecting to see Myers went three for four with a homer and a double.
Royals fans come by their skepticism honestly, of course, but this is silly. Myers never played a big-league game for the Royals. He got a standing ovation in the Futures Game during All-Star week two years ago, but Myers has played as many big-league games for the Royals as you have.
The Royals neverquite
thought as much of Myers as most others in baseball, which is part of why they traded him to Tampa Bay for Shields. There were others involved in the trade, but this will primarily be judged on Shields and Myers. If the Royals make the playoffs with Shields at the top of their rotation, it will be a success for them no matter what. And if Myers turns into the star many predict, it will be a success for them no matter what.
If neither of those happen, then what’s the point?
Royals general manager Dayton Moore swears he hopes Myers has a good career, and Shields spent a chunk of batting practice before Monday’s game laughing with some old teammates and support staff. The men involved have moved on.
On the Royals’ side, the trade remains a reach made for all the right reasons. They gave up too much for only two years of Shields’ time, but it’s easy to see why the front office decided that six years of building deserved a win-now support move. The Royals had the best ERA in baseball last year, and won their most games since 1989.
Hard to think either would’ve been possible without Shields, and even giving up too much, it’s a bit disingenuous for fans who’ve long grown tired of talk about rebuilding projects to crush a trade for one of the game’s best starting pitchers.
The Royals have their best team (at least on paper) in a generation, and a significant portion of the fan base won’t enjoy it as much as they should because Myers is hitting for the Rays.
Maybe this will wear off with time. Myers did a news conference before the Rays played here last year. On Monday, a dozen or so reporters met him at his locker. As much as you can judge such things online and through voicemails and emails, the level of Royals fans’ terror about watching Myers hit a ball into their fountains in a big-league game had dropped from an earthquake to a car wreck.
He hasn’t hit that home run, by the way. Myers has played two rotten big-league games at the K. Hitless in eight at-bats, including three strikeouts. That won’t last, of course. Myers is too talented. He’ll homer today or Wednesday or sometime in the future, and when he does, a portion of the Royals fan base will relive the trade and Myers will be asked about the fountains story and he’ll try to answer the same way he would in Cleveland or Baltimore or Anaheim.
“I just want it treated like another game,” he says.
The reporters nod their heads, turn off their cameras. One sticks around for a second.
“You know people here won’t ever think of it as just another game, right?”
“I know,” he says. “I know.”