Spring training remains in its early stages and position players don’t have a workout until Monday, but there’s already a good natured and entertaining professional-wrestling style to-and-fro budding between the speedsters in the Royals’ clubhouse.
Whether you call it a friendly rivalry or an outright battle for supremacy, speed will be the overarching characteristic of this year’s Royals team. One of the most discussed and dissected topics will be the daily jockeying to prove who is the fastest of the fast.
“It’s going to be a fun competition that I’m looking forward to,” said center fielder Billy Hamilton, a free-agent acquisition this offseason. “Like I said, those guys know how to run the bases. Those guys steal bases. Those guys get on base. It’s going to be fun just to be around those guys and get going.”
On one side of the clubhouse the defending champion Whit Merrifield stands in a ready position, ready and confidently waiting to swat away the next challenger. Merrifield led the American League in stolen bases (34) in 2017, and he led majors this past season (45).
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Across the room just two lockers away from one another, a tag team of challengers in Terrance Gore and Hamilton prepare to stake their claims to Merrifield’s championship belt. Lets not forget that the youngster Adalberto Mondesi lurks somewhere just biding his time.
When members of the media arrived at Merrifield’s locker this week, set to play the role of former WWE sideline reporters “Mean” Gene Okerlund or Jim Ross, Merrifield obliged.
When asked who he thought would win a race between Mondesi, Hamilton and Gore, Merrifield went wrestling villain with his response.
“You think you’re going to leave me out,” Merrifield said. “Just those three? You’re going to leave me out?”
Merrifield morphed back into mild-mannered teammate for a moment and said he’d have to see Hamilton run before he could even answer the question. But then the follow-up question jolted Merrifield back into wrestler mode.
So you’re saying you’d win?
“I’m saying I’ve got the title in my locker for the last two years,” Merrifield replied. “Speed can only carry you so far. You’ve got to have a little bit of savvy about it too, right?”
Hamilton appears the top contender, considering his track record. He’s stolen 277 bases in six big-league seasons. In one minor-league season, he stole 155 bases in 132 games — one of two 100-steal seasons for him in the minors.
Last season with Cincinnati, Hamilton stole 34 bases, which marked his fewest since 2013 when he made his MLB debut in September.
“For sure. I’m going to be all over Whit about, ‘Man, listen I’m beating you in stolen bases,’” Hamilton said. “And he better be the same way on me. Like oh, I’m beating you in stolen bases — or Mondesi or whoever. It’s going to be like a competition, more like a pushing competition. I’m going to be like okay, ‘Whit, I’m getting two today, buddy. You gotta come with it.’”
Mondesi stole 32 bases in 75 games for the Royals last season. Gore, who stole 20 bases or more seven times in the minors, hopes to earn more regular playing time this season after having been primarily a bench player during his stints in the majors.
“I feel pretty confident,” said Gore, who finished last season with the Chicago Cubs after having spent his entire career with the Royals to that point. “I’m ready to prove to everybody that I actually can be an everyday player.”
Based of his past track exploits, Gore supposedly runs a 40-yard dash at a comparable speed to Chiefs All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who is widely regarded as the fastest player in the NFL.
Of course, there is a quick and easy way to measure who is the fastest man on the Royals roster.
Just break out the stopwatch. After all, spring training serves as the perfect time to get a baseline on everyone.
“Yeah, but I don’t worry about that, “Merrifield was quick to reply. “We’re not running track here. Times don’t really matter.”
Merrifield certainly knows which measure of speed works in his favor, and he sees no reason to veer away from that.
During FanFest, Gore joked that Merrifield would never let him live it down if Merrifield led the team in stolen bases for a third straight season.
“Never live it down, I’ve done it for two years in a row,” Merrifield said. “Three years in a row? I guess that’s his cutoff is it? It will be a nice little friendly rivalry. Hopefully we’re stealing bases in games that matter.”
And hopefully, none of the competition reaches a point where metal folding chairs become weapons in the clubhouse.