For Nicky Lopez, being a member of the Royals means you can go home again and you will multiple times every season.
The Royals infielder and Illinois native who graduated from prospect to big leaguer in the middle of May made his second trip to Chicago, less than an hour from his hometown. The Royals started a three-game series against the division rival Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night.
Lopez’s playing status might have been in question a week earlier. Inflammation in his hand kept him on the bench from Sept. 1 through Sept. 8, but he feels better and started the final game of their series in Miami.
Lopez, 24, made his big return trip to Chicago on May 27-29, his first time back in Guaranteed Rate Field as a major leaguer. The stands were crawling with friends, family and acquaintances he’d made over the years growing up in nearby Naperville and starring for Naperville Central High School.
This time, his visit should prove significantly more low-key than the May series.
“I think this time around has become a little more normal,” Lopez said. “The first time around there was what 500 people here for me and stuff like that. I’m not really sure how many people will be at this one.
“I’m assuming I’ll see some familiar faces today, but last time I knew there was going to be a lot of people and I expected it. This time, whoever comes comes and whoever doesn’t doesn’t. I don’t really know what to expect now.”
The Royals made him a local legend by drafting him in the fifth round out of Creighton. No player in his high school’s history had been drafted that high. When he made it to the majors, he became the first big leaguer in the school’s history.
Three other players from his school played professionally in affiliated baseball, but none made it to the majors according to Baseball-Reference.com.
He graduated in 2013 as a three-time letter-winner in baseball as well as a two-time basketball honoree. He batted .398 as a senior.
The same coaching staff, led by head coach Mike Stock, that Lopez played for as a senior at Naperville Central still run the program there now, and Lopez remains in touch with them regularly. During the off-season, he’ll usually pay a visit to the school.
“It’s pretty cool just to go through those hallways again,” Lopez said. “I know they want a jersey of mine too. I’m hoping this off-season to be able to go and bring them a jersey. It’s going to be cool.”
Lopez actually followed the New York Yankees more than any team as a youth, primarily because his favorite player had been Derek Jeter. However, that doesn’t mean he didn’t embrace one of the most memorable moments in Chicago baseball history during his lifetime.
During the 2005 World Series, he attended Game 2 against the Houston Astros. The White Sox won that game, 7-6, and Paul Konerko’s seventh-inning grand slam played a big part. That grand slam landed in the bullpen, and seated two rows behind the bullpen Lopez was cheering and wishing the ball had carried a little farther.
The Royals activated right-handed relief pitcher Jake Newberry from the injured list prior to Tuesday’s game. Newberry had been sidelined by shoulder inflammation. Newberry has posted a 3.21 ERA and a .240 opponents’ batting average in 24 appearances this season.
Pitching coach Cal Eldred was not with the team in Chicago for family reasons. Bullpen coach Vance Wilson will oversee the pitching staff and could make mound visits in Eldred’s absence.