NASCAR’s Carl Edwards, in a blue Royals jersey with his No. 99 on the back, stood atop the pitcher’s mound at Kauffman Stadium and let it rip.
It may have been the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday night’s Royals-Tampa Bay game, but Edwards was all business, just as he is in a race car.
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The right-hander’s fastball blistered Billy Butler’s mitt just a bit outside.
“You’ve got a pretty good arm,” Butler, an avowed NASCAR fan, shouted to Edwards.
Edwards, from Columbia, was supposed to take some batting practice and shag fly balls during his appearance promoting the May 10 Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. But his plane was delayed out of Charlotte, where he was taping a commercial, and the Royals’ batting practice had ended.
That didn’t diminish the enjoyment of his first trip to Kauffman Stadium, a place Edwards has driven past countless times en route to Kansas Speedway the last 14 years but never visited.
“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” a starry-eyed Edwards said as he came off the field and fist-bumped a cadre of Royals players, coaches and manager Ned Yost, another NASCAR buff.
“I was a little nervous about the first pitch. I warmed up a little bit (Monday) night. I haven’t thrown a baseball for a long time. My strategy was to throw it as hard as I could.”
That same aggressive strategy has Edwards in third place in the Sprint Cup standings through seven races. And more important, it produced a win at Bristol three weeks ago, which should ensure a spot in the new 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That victory has Edwards, one of seven different winners in the first seven weeks of the Sprint Cup season, feeling free and easy early in the season.
“That win at Bristol was huge for us,” Edwards said. “The pressure is off, I can go do stuff like this, have a good time. I’m sleeping well. We’re basically in the Chase if we don’t make a mistake.”
When the new Chase format was introduced at the start of the season, it was based on 16 drivers winning the 36 points races. But with no repeat winners so far, — and drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth yet to win — there could be more than 16 winners, meaning it may take more than one win, or certainly a high place in the points standings, to qualify for the Chase.
“Our dream scenario would be to come to Kansas in May, win that race, make sure we have two wins, because if we have two wins, we will be in the Chase,” Edwards said.
The Royals are pulling for Edwards to make the Chase.
“Our guys watch NASCAR,” said Yost, who once worked for Dale Earnhardt’s crew during offseasons when he was an Atlanta Braves coach. “They know who Carl Edwards is. I’ve always admired him, always respected him, and from time to time take him on my fantasy team.”
Butler said: “I’m a big Ford fan. That’s all I drive. I was excited to meet him.”
Even Tampa Bay’s three-time All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria wanted a piece of Edwards.
“He had a question how we went to the restroom in the car,” Edwards laughed. “That was his only question. Real technical stuff was being discussed out there.”