Judging the Royals

Royals coach Rusty Kuntz just can’t help himself ... even if the bus might not wait

Royals coach Rusty Kuntz (right) tipped his hat to shortstop Alcides Escobar after the shortstop made a particularly good play in the field last week.
Royals coach Rusty Kuntz (right) tipped his hat to shortstop Alcides Escobar after the shortstop made a particularly good play in the field last week. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The other day, Dayton Moore and I were leaning on a chain-link fence when Royals coach Rusty Kuntz walked by. Moore pointed at Rusty and talked about how important he is to the team.

The Royals expect their players to show passion and energy every day, and you don’t get that from players if the coaching staff is moping around and griping. If you want your players to show passion and energy, the coaches need to do the same thing — and nobody shows more passion and energy than Rusty Kuntz.

For example:

Rusty and I were walking toward the clubhouse Monday because he had a bus to catch; the Royals were playing a split-squad game and Rusty was going to Peoria for a game with the Mariners — the bus was about to leave.

As we walked past a practice field, Rusty watched Terrance Gore field a grounder. Rusty didn’t like what he saw, so he took a sharp left turn and was soon teaching Gore the correct technique for fielding an outfield grounder.

First, here’s the wrong way:

Gore was running forward, flipping his glove down and fielding the ball with his palm pointing up to the sky. That meant the glove was flat — parallel to the ground — and the ball could hit the front edge of the fingers of the glove or the palm of the glove and bounce out.

Now, here’s the right way:

Rusty wanted Gore to get his glove down sooner, push his wrist to the ball and field it with the glove’s fingers pointed down to the ground. That would put the glove in a vertical position and give the glove more surface area; the palm would be facing forward, not up.

Gore said it felt unnatural to bend his wrist that far back and Rusty said if it hurt, Gore was doing it right.

Rusty had coach Mitch Maier hit ground balls to Gore while he watched. Gore made the adjustment and got it right. Rusty said Gore just needed a lot of reps now; do it over and over again until it felt natural.

That’s when Rusty looked down at his watch and realized the bus for Peoria was leaving in two minutes: “It’s 11:58 … what the heck am I doing out here?”

The rule in baseball is the bus leaves on time, so you better be on it. I don’t know if Rusty made the bus on time, but in his case, maybe they’d wait — because when it comes to teaching baseball, Rusty Kuntz can’t help himself.

Run to the glove

The Royals were working on the finer points of base-running last week while I stood off to the side and watched. Some of what they talked about I can’t reveal or they won’t let me watch anymore, but here’s something I can let you in on:

When a Royals base runner is coming into third base and the third baseman is straddling the bag, waiting for the throw, the base runner should run at the third baseman’s glove.

The idea is to block the throwing lane between the outfielder and the third baseman; let the ball hit you in the back if necessary.

But if the third baseman shifts his feet and goes to one side of the bag or the other, it means the throw is offline and the base runner should aim at the part of the bag that’s farthest away from the glove.

The same principle applies to home plate, with a couple modifications.

If the throw to home is from right field or center field, the runner should head for the back part of the plate; he won’t be able to block the throwing lane. But if the throw is from left field or third base, the runner should always aim for the catcher’s mitt.

Lots of third baseman will look up, see a runner in the way and take the easy out at first.

Spring is about instruction

If you’re like me, you’re thinking there sure are a lot of details involved in playing baseball at its highest level. And you’re right. This is how you become a complete player. You learn and absorb a thousand techniques and they become part of your game.

Spring training is about getting in shape, but it’s also about instruction.

Every day, on every field, players in the Royals’ system are being taught how to play the game. This is part of the Royals’ philosophy: Teach the players the right way to play and then turn those players loose.

And it’s a philosophy that seems to be working.