Blake Treinen walked across the warning track behind home plate, ready to make sure his buddy followed through on a promise.
The Washington Nationals relief pitcher had previously told Danny Ruegsegger he’d get him batting practice field passes under one condition: The lifelong Royals fan would have to wear some new gear.
Ruegsegger — decked in a gray Royals hoodie — smiled when Treinen walked over with a blue and red Nationals cap.
“I’m going to put this on one inning,” Ruegsegger said with a laugh. “Then after you’re done pitching, I’m going to go back to my Royals hat.”
The 10-minute conversation that followed Monday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium was surreal for both: Treinen, against all odds, had made it to Kansas City to pitch in the big leagues.
Treinen, who grew up in Osage City, Kan., was here after he went to Royals games with his family, with his mother, Gete, often telling him, “Just think, Blake, you could play here someday.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t that be cool, Mom?” she remembers him saying.
This also was after a college career that started at Baker University, where he pitched three innings for the JV team, and after he transferred to Arkansas, where he didn’t play baseball while pursuing a landscape architecture degree.
This was after he went to a pitching camp in Osage City, Kan., hosted by former Kansas baseball player Don Czyz, who saw some potential and called up former KU teammate Ritchie Price, who was coaching at South Dakota State. This was after Treinen transferred to South Dakota State after receiving a walk-on offer, then saw his velocity shoot up from the high-70s to the high-90s before getting drafted by the Miami Marlins, then the Oakland Athletics.
“It was definitely lightning in a bottle,” Price said, “and everything just coming together.”
A trade later sent Treinen to the Nationals, and he couldn’t help but reflect on the entire journey Monday. While talking with Ruegsegger, he pointed to the Party Porch in right field, motioning to where he stood the last time he attended a Royals game. That day — he was in college at South Dakota State at the time — he caught a batting-practice ball with his bare hand.
Blake’s father, Tim, smiled when recalling the same memory while standing just outside the home-plate entrance about an hour before the game.
His parents weren’t going to be his only supporters during the three-game series. Nearly all of Osage City — a town of about 3,000 about 40 miles south of Topeka — had made plans to travel to Kansas City.
One group had bought bullpen tickets for a game, only to realize later the seats were just outside the Royals’ bullpen instead of the Nationals’ one. The American Legion team that Treinen once played for was coming, as was a bus of fifth-graders for Wednesday’s “School Day at the K.” He pitched the final inning of the Nationals’ 13-2 win.
Ruegsegger had heard from enough people to believe there might be a chance more Osage Citians would be in Kauffman Stadium this week than in the town itself. Treinen jerseys were scattered throughout the park Monday — he didn’t pitch in Washington’s 2-0 win — with one sign proclaiming, “Osage City loves Blake Treinen.”
“Just to be here and play in front of family and friends,” Treinen said, “it’s pretty exciting.”
Also on the warning track was Evan Faulkner, who played baseball with Treinen through high school. With a March 17 birthday, Faulkner was wearing an appropriate gift he had received from his friend: a green Nationals cap.
Faulkner, who at one time helped push Treinen’s broken-down pickup truck down a busy Topeka highway, still marvels at his friend’s improvement from high school.
“He threw hard and had no control,” Faulkner said with a smile. “He had a very good curveball, but you never knew where it was going to go.”
Treinen (pronounced TRY-nen) has a much better understanding now. In his third season with the Nats, he has a 3.60 ERA over 10 innings with 10 strikeouts and five walks.
The right-hander, who was mentioned in a “Jeopardy” TV game show clue this year after throwing a 100-mph sinker, ended his pregame talk on the warning track with some pictures. A couple of Ruegsegger’s work buddies hesitated to get a photo before Treinen motioned them over.
“Literally the nicest guy in our town,” Ruegsegger said. “It couldn’t have happened to a better person.”
Treinen’s family made preparations to be at all three games with tickets in Section 225, near home plate. Earlier in the week, Tim told his son to take in the moment and enjoy it.
“Now you get to see him come out here and hopefully play where he grew up watching. That’s going to be pretty exciting for us,” Tim said. “We’ve already got butterflies.”