Judging the Royals

How about some Mike Moustakas stories you haven’t heard before?

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas gives two thumbs up after a single in the fifth inning during a game earlier this season against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas gives two thumbs up after a single in the fifth inning during a game earlier this season against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. jsleezer@kcstar.com

It’s Saturday afternoon and there are two games left in the 2017 season. After that, nobody knows for sure who’s coming back and who’s gone for good, so there’s been a lot of reminiscing about these players and what they’ve accomplished in a Royals uniform.

No Royals fan can forget Mike Moustakas’ playoff home runs or diving into a dugout suite to catch a foul ball or rallying the team before the comeback in Houston.

I share those memories too, but have a few of my own, so here are some Mike Moustakas stories you probably haven’t heard before.

How Moustakas helped Hosmer win a Gold Glove

When the cameras and microphones are turned on ballplayers know what to say; they credit the other team, their teammates and downplay their own accomplishments. This can lead some fans to conclude that athletes are boring.

But off camera most ballplayers are funny guys, and that includes Mike Moustakas.

When they were rookies it didn’t take long to notice that Moustakas had a bazooka for an arm and Eric Hosmer had a great glove. And sometimes Moustakas would unleash a throw headed for the dugout or a popcorn vendor and Hosmer would save him with a great stretch or pick the ball out of the dirt.

I asked Moustakas if he owed a Hosmer a steak dinner for that and Mike thought about it for a minute and then said he thought Hosmer owed him a steak dinner: “How’s he going to win a Gold Glove if every throw is perfect?”

Good point; and today, thanks in part to Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer has three of them.

What motivated Moustakas to sign with the Royals

Mike got drafted by the Royals out of high school, but if he didn’t like their offer he could have turned it down and gone to college; then he got a look at the classes he would be expected to take in college.

“I wasn’t going to pass any of them; after that I would have signed for a bus ticket and a warm Pepsi,” he said.

But Moustakas has read a book

Despite making fun of his scholastic abilities, Mike Moustakas is the only Royals ballplayer I’ve ever seen reading a book; it’s just not something most ballplayers do, at least in public.

As I recall, Mike’s book was about the military, which makes sense. Mike is very patriotic and if someone from the military is involved in throwing out a first pitch at a Royals game, Mike often volunteers to be the guy to catch it and that leads us to another story.

There’s a big air base near the Royals spring training complex in Surprise, Arizona, and one day Mike invited a group of pilots to take some batting practice.

After the Royals’ morning workout was over, after all the other players headed for the clubhouse to get out of the heat, Mike Moustakas stood out in the sun and threw BP to some fighter pilots who were having the time of their lives.

How Moustakas and Hosmer tried to beat me to death with baseballs

Eric Hosmer and I were going to make a video; he was going to throw pitches in the dirt and I was going to try to block them. You never touch a player’s stuff without permission, but Jason Kendall said I could wear his catching gear for the video. One problem: Kendall forgot to leave me a catcher’s mitt.

But Hosmer and I knew Mike had one, so we headed up to the clubhouse to ask if we could borrow it. Mike asked why and when we told him what we were doing, Mike said we could borrow his mitt as long as he got to hit me with baseballs, too.

So now we’re in the indoor batting cage (off-limits to the media), I’m wearing a player’s catching gear (very off limits to the media) and two of the Royals star players are pelting me with baseballs and laughing their backsides off.

The door opens and it’s Ned Yost.

Uh-oh, Daddy’s home!

We froze like kids caught playing ball in the living room. Ned looked at us, waited a beat and then said: “Lee, you’re never gonna block those pitches unless you get your (rear end) up off the ground.”

Since Ned was OK with it and now giving me catching instruction, Moustakas and Hosmer went back to slowly beating me to death with baseballs. At one point, Moustakas turned to Hosmer and said: “I can’t believe he’s letting us do this!”

Me either.

Vargy pitched a great game

You probably know the story, but here’s the story behind the story.

In 2014 Moustakas was scuffling and some people in the media were saying he should be sent down to the minors. Then, on May 14, the Royals beat the Rockies 3-2, Moustakas drove in all three runs and now the media wanted to talk to him. It was a day game and reporters were trying to beat their deadlines, so they gathered around Moustakas’ locker to get some postgame quotes.

One problem: no Moustakas.

Finally, Mike walked up to his locker, everyone fired up the cameras and microphones, but Moustakas got something out of his locker and walked away without talking.

I looked over at Eric Hosmer and we both started laughing: Mike was sticking it to the media.

On Tuesday we were calling for him to lose his job, on Wednesday we needed a favor. We needed Mike to talk so we could write our stories and beat our deadlines and Mike was making us nervous by making us wait. Eventually Mike did talk and the interview became famous for Mike repeating “Vargy pitched a great game” over and over.

But go back and watch the interview and you’ll see Mike did give some other quotes, but once he said “Vargy pitched a great game” a couple times, he later said it got funny to him, so he just kept saying it.

The Royals beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2 in a 2014 game at Kauffman Stadium and Mike Moustakas had all three RBIs. But Moustakas was more interested in talking about starter Jason Vargas.

And as we’ve already seen, Mike can have a perverse sense of humor.

The next day I wrote a column explaining some of this and that evening I was leaning against the dugout rail when Mike walked by carrying his bat and glove. When he spotted me, he dropped them and walked over. I wasn’t sure how Mike had taken what I’d said, so I was thinking: “Now this could get interesting.”

But we didn’t go Mayweather/McGregor, Mike fist bumped me and walked off.

One last story: who should play Moustakas in a movie?

After the Royals won the World Series, the postgame party in the clubhouse went on for a while. I didn’t have to write until the next morning, so I hung out, talking to players and coaches. At one point I asked Moustakas if they were to make a movie about the Royals 2015 season, what actor should play him.

Mike: “There’s going to be a movie?”

Me: “Why not? They made a movie out of Moneyball and those guys never won (bleep).”

Mike: “You’re right, there should be a movie.”

Mike thought about it a while and then named the actor who should play him: “Josh Hartnett…or Jack Black.”

So a 6-foot-3 sex symbol or a 5-foot-6 comedian; split the difference and you have Mike Moustakas.

See? I told you he was funny.