The fastest man in baseball drives with caution. When Terrance Gore was a sophomore in high school, his mother spent about $500 on a 1980 Chevy El Camino, and her son restored it with care. He painted the car candy apple red, upgraded the engine and installed 22-inch chrome rims.
“That’s my baby,” Gore said.
He treats his wheels with reverence. The vehicle resides under cover at his home in Georgia. No one is allowed to drive it. Gore expected to return home to his car after the minor-league season ended. Then his own legs intervened.
The fastest man in baseball looks like a teenager. He is 23, his Kansas City teammates call him “G. Baby” and he loves Skittles. He is also the most disruptive, game-altering force on the Royals’ bench as they enter the American League Championship Series with Baltimore this weekend.
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Jarrod Dyson coined the phrase “that’s what speed do,” but Gore is the living, breathing, spotlight-stealing embodiment of the axiom. He will likely never become a big-league regular. But he could become a late-season fixture, an annual September addition, recalled to wreak havoc as a pinch-runner.
In his first big-league game, Gore announced himself by swiping a base and scoring a run. He scored a walk-off run from second base on an infield single. He swiped two bases in the American League Division Series in almost comical fashion. By the time Angels catcher Chris Iannetta had completed a throw to second base in game two, Gore was brushing dirt off his uniform.
“I wouldn’t say I’m cocky, but I know I’m really fast,” Gore said. “And it’s going to take a perfect throw.”
The stories about his speed sometimes sound like mythology. His legs inspire hyperbole from his superiors. The chorus of praise is stunning in its intensity and uniform in its message for a player with a 91-percent success rate stealing in the minors and a 100 percent rate in the majors.
First-base coach Rusty Kuntz compared him to stolen-base king Rickey Henderson. His high school football coach called him “the fastest human being I’ve ever coached,” and his junior-college baseball coach said, “I’d never seen a human being move that quick in my life.” A rival scout told Royals director of player development Scott Sharp to “tell him to stop playing baseball and go win an Olympic gold medal.”
When Gore arrived in the majors at the end of August, the team placed his locker next to Dyson’s. The duo share a similar build — with Dyson a couple of inches taller and a few pounds lighter than the 5-7, 165-pound rookie — and a similar reputation.
Dyson insists there was no reason for a race. Gore appears too sheepish to ask.
“They don’t need to race,” said Mike Kandler, who coached Gore at Gulf Coast State College. “Because Jarrod is going to find out he’s human. Terrance isn’t. Can he beat Usain Bolt on the track? No. But I think he could beat him around the bases. “
The fastest man in baseball was a scrawny teenage boy, a 150-pounder who enjoyed football but feared contact. When Dwight Jones took over the program at Jones County High, in Gray, Ga., about 90 miles south of Atlanta, he heard the team included a speedy running back. Jones noted Gore’s size with hesitation.
The worry soon washed away. Jones put together a battery of preseason tests, including the standard sprinting exercise. Gore stood 40 yards away. When he burst through the line, all three coaches clicked their watches. Their readings were identical.
“I’m not a real smart person,” Jones said. “But if he can run a 4.29, you don’t have to block very long. We’re going to give him the football.”
Jones installed Gore as one of his halfbacks in a Wing T offense. On a sweep, he could outrun the angles of the incoming defenders with ease. When Gore dabbled at wide receiver, Jones called for deep routes. He instructed his quarterbacks, “Just throw the ball as far as you can.”
Reached by a reporter this past week, Jones dug through his school’s record book for Gore’s statistics, a revealing glimpse at the distorting power of his speed. He topped 1,000 rushing yards as a senior and averaged more than nine yards a carry. Six of his 19 touchdowns went for 50 yards or more.
“He just made people hate him because they could never get their hands on him,” Jones said.
The letters from colleges piled up, messages from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern. Gore insists he never seriously considered football. He lacked the stomach for head-on collisions and did not want to jeopardize his baseball career.
“You would see me run toward the sideline,” Gore said. “If I saw somebody, I would just tiptoe out. I didn’t get want to get hit. I didn’t want to get hurt. Baseball was my first priority.”
Gore never ran much track. He dealt with nagging hamstring injuries through his high school career, and his coaches discouraged him because of the risk of injury. He can dunk, he said, but not “with a men’s basketball, because my hands are so tiny.”
So it was always baseball. A friend from a travel-ball team recommended Mike Kandler’s program at Gulf Coast State in Panama City, Fla. Kandler brought Gore in for a workout. Gore showed up with purple baseball pants, green socks and a hat cocked sideways. His arm wasn’t too impressive. “He didn’t really look the part,” Kandler said.
Then he lined up for the 60-yard dash. Kandler told Gore to stretch. Gore loosened up for about 30 seconds. Kandler told him to make sure he was ready. Gore assured the skeptic he was.
“He took three steps,” Kandler said. “I looked at my assistant coach, and said, ‘Give him whatever offer we’ve got to give him. We’ve got to get this guy.’”
Gore terrorized junior-college defenses. He once scored from first base after an errant pickoff throw. If he was at third, and a runner was at first, Kandler instructed the trail runner to drift far enough to draw a throw from the pitcher. Gore would be home before a relay could reach the plate.
His statistics show he was only caught three times in 54 steal attempts, and one of those, Kandler insisted, occurred because Gore tripped en route to third base.
“Nobody in the sport of baseball can run like Terrance Gore,” Kandler said. “We’re in an area where Deion Sanders played his college ball. Most of the scouts in our area say that Deion was the fastest player they ever saw play. And they said, clearly, he runs better than Deion Sanders ran.”
The fastest man in baseball still toils in obscurity. A few hours before game one of the American League Division Series, when he stole second without incident, a fan in a vintage Royals jersey spotted Gore jogging into the visiting dugout.
“Dyson!” the fan shouted. “Dyson!”
It is not the first time the comparison has been made. When Royals scout Colin Gonzalez spoke with Gore in college, he mentioned how Gore reminded of Dyson. Gore had no idea who that was. He would soon learn.
The Royals did not acquire Gore by accident. After the 10th round of the major league draft each year, assistant general manager J.J. Picollo explained, Kansas City targets tools. The Royals earmark athletes who possess one of the three skills that, “more or less, you can’t teach,” Picollo said. One is power. The second is fastball velocity. The third is speed.
Kansas City selected Gore with its 20th-round pick in the 2011 draft. When Gore entered the Royals’ system, Dyson had already raced to the big leagues. The organization hoped Gore would follow that path. When the Royals traded Quintin Berry to Boston in 2013, team officials identified Gore as their best runner in the system, even ahead of Dyson.
“Everybody was like, ‘Who’s faster?’” Gore said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ At that time, I was like just coming up. I’m not going to go up to him like, ‘Hey, I’m faster than you.’”
The difference between the two, according to observers, is Gore’s stride length. He runs like a much taller man, and reaches top speed at a quicker clip. “He’s got bounce to his step,” Picollo said. “He looks like a sprinter. Dys, for lack of a better term, is just fast.”
Dyson is also a much more accomplished hitter. After an encouraging showing in rookie ball, Gore batted .215 at Class A Lexington in 2013 and .218 at Class A Wilmington this past season. His bunting skills are still rudimentary, even after being ordered to only bunt during a stint in the Instructional League last fall.
Throughout 2014, club officials hinted he might be called up for a pennant race in September. When Wilmington manager Darryl Kennedy informed him in August he was moving up to Class AAA Omaha, Gore admitted his surprise. “I was like, ‘What? I’m not even hitting that good,’” Gore said.
His lone assignment in Omaha involved running. The team dispatched John Wathan, the former big-league manager and current member of the player development staff, to counsel Gore on how he might be strategically used. They reminded Gore he needed to go early in the count, so he wouldn’t disrupt a batter’s timing. When he arrived in the majors, he received tutelage from Kuntz, the maestro of Kansas City’s running game, on keys for the opposing pitchers.
The result is a terrifying combination for an opposing defense. Now, the fastest man in baseball has improved technique. Watching on television last week, Sharp wondered why Iannetta even bothered to throw on Gore’s game two steal.
“It was unreal,” Sharp said. “It was the best jump I’ve ever seen him get. It may have been one of the best jumps I’ve ever seen.”
Gore joined his new teammates at McFadden’s as Sunday bled into Monday after their triumph over the Angels. He wore a Royals T-shirt that read “Our Year,” and posed for pictures with fans. He beamed in the photos, looking like a kid who became the fastest man in baseball quicker than he ever expected.
“I’m just trying to enjoy every bit of it,” he said. “I’m so happy to be here.”