Royals use spring training grind to build team chemistry

Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera.
Kansas City Royals catcher Drew Butera. jsleezer@kcstar.com

While baseball players are certainly used to the grind of playing almost every day during a 162-game season, the daily routine of spring training creates an extra challenge.

It’s a little harder to remain focused when the games don’t even count.

With the Royals just months removed from playing on the biggest stage in baseball, it makes sense that the Cactus League is starting to feel small for the boys in blue.

As spring training winds down in Arizona for the Royals, most players are ready to get to work defending the team’s championship.

Catcher Drew Butera said he’s ready to play some games with higher stakes — but those stakes don’t have to be nearly as high as they were in the playoffs and World Series for him to be satisfied.

He’s just excited for games that leave a mark in the standings, and for the chance to reflect one more time on what the Royals accomplished last season.

“(I’m) ready for the season to start,” Butera said. “Ready for the games to start counting and ready to get our rings.”

While time practicing and playing other Cactus League opponents has been valuable, Royals players are also quick to credit the value of time spent working on that mental aspect that made the World Series champions so special last year: chemistry.

Butera said he already knew how good the team dynamic would be in the clubhouse from last year, but it’s still nice to get a reminder. Despite reaching the ultimate goal last year, Butera said the team’s focus is still on the win column.

“We reaffirmed that this team is here to win,” Butera said. “We have fun doing it. We pull for each other. We work hard and do everything we can to win ballgames.”

That single goal isn’t the only way the Royals are all on the same page. Some players have made the group’s fun, loud locker room well known on social media. And the friendships extend beyond Twitter or Snapchat.

“The guys just love hanging out with each other, doing things together,” Butera said. “There’s not just one ‘hey, let’s all have a team function so we have to be next to each other.’ Everybody genuinely wants to be with each other.”

Still, utility player Whit Merrifield said there were some off-the-field functions that helped build on the team camaraderie that Butera values so highly.

“We had a big team night together where we had a pool tournament, stuff like that, and that’s always good,” Merrifield said. “When you go hang out with the guys outside of the baseball setting and get to know them that way, that helps.”

This year’s Royals team will have plenty of time — all the way into November — to keep getting to know each other if they’re as successful as the last two seasons. But it doesn’t take nearly that long to grasp why everyone gets along in Kansas City, and that’s a key part to winning ballgames, Merrifield said.

“You just understand why this group is so close,” Merrifield said. “It’s just a bunch of good guys, a bunch of fun guys, and it’s just a really fun clubhouse to be a part of. Hang out here for a couple of days and it’s not hard to see why these guys are winners.”

Jayson Chesler is a senior at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.