Royals

Meet Cody Decker, the Royals’ utility man with a Screen Actors Guild card

Royals prospect Cody Decker might be 29, but he has youthful enthusiasm for baseball ... and acting.
Royals prospect Cody Decker might be 29, but he has youthful enthusiasm for baseball ... and acting. jsleezer@kcstar.com

In the quiet moments, during the hours away from the tedium that is minor-league baseball, Cody Decker would return to his home and crack open a book by Konstantin Stanislavsky, the famed 19th-century Russian stage actor and theater director.

The pages provide a release, the Royals prospect says, and the subject piques his interest.

In acting circles, Stanislavsky is a patron saint of sorts, the man responsible for creating the Stanislavsky System, a form of a method acting and intense emotional training. So when Decker was a 20-something dreamer forging a path to the major leagues, he drank deeply from thew well of academic acting books. This was an unusual habit for a professional baseball player, but it was a typical exercise for Decker, a former UCLA baseball standout who has dabbled in acting since his high school days in Santa Monica.

In baseball circles, one might refer to Decker as a Renaissance Man, and the description would be apt. He is a utility guy who devotes his time to serious acting study, comedy and slugging fastballs 400 feet. He is, he admits, probably the only player in professional baseball who likes to read Stanislavsky for fun.

“Stanislavsky basically said, ‘You take down every line, and you find the deepest meaning behind each line,’ ” Decker says, offering up a quick tutorial. “You constantly write down: ‘Why?’ ‘Why did the character say this?’ Because of this. ‘Well, why?’ ”

It is Thursday morning in Arizona and Decker is standing inside the Royals’ clubhouse, a 29-year-old non-roster invitee who joined the organization this offseason on a minor-league deal. In seven seasons of pro ball, Decker has clubbed 154 minor-league homers and staked a reputation as a useful bat. He had a cup of coffee with the San Diego Padres last October, going hitless in his first eight games. When the Royals break camp in April, he is most likely headed back to the minor leagues.

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For the moment, though, he is clear about the following: He might be one of the only players in pro baseball who has earned his Screen Actors Guild card; he has enjoyed a cameo in a major NBC drama, “State of Affairs” ... and he produces his own short films on the side, including one all-time prank of former Royals outfielder Jeff Francoeur. (More on that in a second.)

He is, however, not ready to think about a possible second career in acting. Not full-time, at least. He has been to the big leagues once, he says, and he would like to get there again. Even if his answer suggests we not take anything he says too seriously.

“I’ll most likely be dead,” Decker says, speaking of his post-baseball career. “I’m living on borrowed time right now. I’m 29 years old right now. Nobody thought I’d make it past 27. So really, I’m playing with house money, which is funny, because I have no money.

“But yeah, if I’m still alive? Absolutely. I’ll do some acting stuff.”

As Decker finishes this, uhh … thought, he maintains a deadpan expression. He nods for a moment, then offers a sly smile.

Decker concedes he has been like this since his high school days. Former coaches and teammates can attest. As a student at Santa Monica High, just outside Los Angeles, he joined the theatre company and won the lead role as Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”

“The big trombones and the big clarinets,” Decker says.

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Next came roles in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Goodbye Charlie.” He then honed his craft with one-acts and other bits of training. When he accepted a baseball scholarship to UCLA, the proximity to the entertainment industry offered a convenient excuse to dabble in acting on the side.

“This is what I was doing when I wasn’t doing baseball stuff,” Decker says. “I was at the field every day, or I was at the gym every day, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was reading Stanislavski books.”

After finishing his career at UCLA in 2009, Decker was selected in the 21st round by the San Diego Padres. If he sought a career in baseball, he had hope. But as he climbed the rungs of the minor leagues, he hunted acting jobs in the offseason. His talent has resulted in carnage in minor-league clubhouses.

In 2014, he spent the season with the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Padres’ Class AAA affiliate. He used the first month of the season to convince Francoeur, the former Royals outfielder, that one of their teammates was deaf. The ruse lasted a month, Decker says, from spring training to the early parts of April. When it was time, he filmed and produced a short documentary in a matter of days, revealing the truth to Francoeur.

“I absolutely love him,” Decker says. “He bought us all steaks the next night. I don’t have a single negative thing to say about him, other than, how do you not realize your teammate’s not deaf — for a month?”

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A year later came Decker’s break — if you want to call it that. In the offseason before 2015, a man named Joe Carnahan, a friend and executive producer on the NBC drama “State of Affairs,” called with an offer. The part: A mall security guard who gets blown up during the show’s opening scene.

“You’re going to play this and you’re going to die,” Decker recalls Carnahan saying.

“I’m like: ‘Sounds awesome.’ ”

The television role was Decker’s first acting credit. It has since found its way to his IMDB.com page, which Decker notes features a photo of a young guy who is clearly not him. So yes, this acting thing is still in its infant stages.

“I have no idea who the hell that is,” Decker says. “But that’s not me.”

In the opening weeks of camp, Decker has settled into a new clubhouse after seven seasons in San Diego. He has collected three hits in five games. His new manager has utilized his versatility. Decker can man a corner field spot. He can catch in an emergency. He can head to the outfield if there is a need. His inclination for utility matches his acting instincts, as well.

For years, Decker says, his favorite actor has remained Stanley Tucci, a character actor who can blend into any scene, who can make any film work, whose talents sometimes go unnoticed.

“A character actor,” Decker said. “To me, that’s like the highest compliment you can give somebody. Which also works for me as well. I’m a stunt man. You get the stars out of the way, you throw the stunt man in. He does the dirty work, and you put the stars back in.”

Rustin Dodd: 816-234-4937, @rustindodd

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