Royals

Wild Card hero Christian Colon looks to stay in the majors

Royals utility infielder Christian Colon practices during Thursday's spring training workout in Surprise, Ariz.
Royals utility infielder Christian Colon practices during Thursday's spring training workout in Surprise, Ariz. The Kansas City Star

. Next to Christian Colon’s bed sits a framed photograph that captured his game-winning run in the Wild Card Game.

Its presence is not an exercise in vanity but a measure of inspiration and a reminder of Colon’s desire to remain a factor with the Royals.

“The first thing I do when I get up is I look at that picture,” Colon said. “It’s how I stay positive throughout an entire year.”

It’s also why he brought with him to spring training the spikes, batting gloves and blue mitt that protected his broken finger, all symbols of encouragement for Colon, a former first-round draft selection.

“Those items, they remind me how quickly things can change,” Colon said. “If I’m going through a rough time, it can remind me that I can bounce back. It helps me get rid of negative thinking.”

Although he’s likely to break camp as the Royals’ top utility player, with the ability to play second base, third base and shortstop, Colon takes nothing for granted. Memory of a long minor-league journey keeps him grounded.

Colon made 2,113 minor-league plate appearances before his major-league debut last season ,and he was with the team for good starting in September for the team’s push to the playoffs.

In 21 games, Colon hit .333, and he was part of the postseason rosters until the World Series. The Wild Card Game — the 12th inning — proved his greatest sequence.

To review: The Royals trailed the A’s 8-7, when Eric Hosmer launched a one-out triple off the left-center field wall. Colon, who had entered the game in the 10th as a pinch hitter and laid down a sacrifice bunt, stepped up.

His chopper to third bounced high enough to bring in Hosmer, and with two outs, Colon stole second after A’s catcher Derek Norris couldn’t handle a pitchout throw.

Salvador Perez’s hip-bending swing got enough bat on a ball that just eluded the glove of diving third baseman Josh Donaldson, and Colon zipped home with the game-winner.

As memorable as Hosmer’s triple and Perez’s game-winner were, the rally wouldn’t have happened without Colon’s heroics.

And those heroics, which set up the magical run to the team’s first World Series in nearly three decades, might not have happened had Colon’s career unfolded in another way.

His minor-league toils, dealing with the pressure of a No. 4 overall selection and wondering when his major-league opportunity would arrive became part of the path that brought him the Royals and to the 12th inning of the Wild Card Game.

“If anything happens differently, am I in that position?” Colon asked.

Like any selection near the top of the draft, Colon constantly wondered when his time would come.

“At the beginning, I felt like I needed to make an impact quickly,”said Colon, a former Cal State-Fullerton shortstop.

Instead, he rose through the ranks. A year at Class A Wilmington and two in Class AA Northwest Arkansas, where an injury to his eye from a foul tip ended his second season early.

In his fourth pro year, Class AAA Omaha was the destination, and that’s where he played last season until July.

Meanwhile others in the 2010 draft class had been on the move. Top pick Bryce Harper was the National League Rookie of the Year for the Nationals in 2012, and third pick Manny Machado was an All-Star for the Orioles in 2013.

“You want to get there,” Colon said. “Everybody wants to get there. But what I learned from the process is it’s a day-to-day thing. The biggest thing along the way is to ask yourself, what am I doing to help my team?

“That’s the advice I’d give to guys like Bubba Starling and Raul Mondesi. You’re drafted where you are for a reason. Stick to your ways and remain confident.”

This offseason for Colon felt different, and not only because for the first time in three years, Colon did not play winter ball. Instead, he chose to ramp up his workouts and add racquetball to improve his lateral movement.

“I felt hungrier this year,” Colon said. “I feel like that much closer to establishing myself as a big-leaguer, and I want to be a spark for this team.”

As he was in the 12th inning of the biggest game of his life.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @BlairKerkhoff.

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