Steven M. Sipple: Stress eases for Gordon
Tuesday, Jan 22, 2008 - 07:19:40 pm CST
BEATRICE Ã¢â‚¬â€ In case Alex Gordon had forgotten he was a bona fide star, he needed only to glance at the marquee in front of the Indian Creek Mall.
The annual Kansas City Royals Caravan, going strong since 1969, rolled into Beatrice on Monday in time for lunch. Most of the 200-plus autograph seekers arrived to see you-know-who.
No pressure, Alex Ã¢â‚¬â€ at least not as much as last season.
Perhaps this season Gordon wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be Royals fansÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ focal point on Opening Day, as was the case against the Boston Red Sox last spring when Ã¢â‚¬Å“Alex received one of the loudest standing ovations for an individual that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard since IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been watching games at Kauffman Stadium,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ryan Lefebvre, RoyalsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ play-by-play broadcaster since 1999.
Now, relax Alex and go bang a couple hits off Curt Schilling.
Indeed, it was difficult for Gordon to relax last season as an extremely high-profile rookie third baseman batting cleanup at times Ã¢â‚¬â€ that is, before his batting average dipped well below the Mendoza line.
GordonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second year in the majors should be less stressful.
In fact, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m guessing Gordon in 2008 will establish himself as one of baseballÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best young players, in part because the hysteria has subsided.
It also should help matters that the Royals recently signed slugging free-agent outfielder Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million deal. Guillen should ease pressure on the teamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s young hitters.
The boys in blue feature a promising cast of young players that includes Mark Teahen (who also was on hand Monday), Billy Butler, Tony Pena Jr., Brian Bannister and closer Joakim Soria.
Then thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the unassuming kid from Lincoln sporting a mop of sandy blond hair and major-league forearms. Perhaps it should be noted that it was Teahen Ã¢â‚¬â€ and not Gordon Ã¢â‚¬â€ who was featured on the placards the Royals PR guys handed out Monday.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s difficult for a guy with that much hype to come into the league and expect to be a superstar right away,Ã¢â‚¬Â Teahen said of Gordon, the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. Ã¢â‚¬Å“For all that pressure to be put on Alex, it wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really fair. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m excited to see him go into this coming season with all of that first-year stuff out of the way and just kind of settle in.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Gordon settled in nicely Monday. Seated next to Teahen, Gordon signed and smiled and posed non-stop for 65 minutes. Lefebvre and ex-Royals slugger John Mayberry also made the trip. The line of fans snaked about 40 yards down a corridor of the mall. It was wonderful Americana.
The 23-year-old Gordon sounds as self-assured as ever. But he acknowledges a greater sense of calm.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Coming into spring training last year, I was trying to win a spot,Ã¢â‚¬Â Gordon said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“This year I feel like I have that spot and I can prepare myself for the upcoming season and can just try to do everything I can to get ready for it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
After wearing No. 7 in 2007, Gordon will return to wearing No. 4, as he did at Lincoln Southeast and during his junior year at Nebraska.
Many folks in our neck of the woods lived and died with every Gordon at-bat last season. For much of the season, we mostly died. It was excruciating at times watching the rookie struggle.
After scuffling to a .173 batting average through the first 53 games, Gordon rebounded to hit .285 in the final 98. He finished the season batting .247, with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs and led American League rookies with 55 extra-base hits.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“At first I was in awe,Ã¢â‚¬Â Gordon said of facing big-league superstars. Ã¢â‚¬Å“If you want to compete with those guys, you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be like that. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great to be playing with them, but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re your competition. You have to believe in yourself that you can compete with those guys.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The way I look at the season, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m happy with the way I turned it around and got things going after a slow start. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very happy with the way it ended.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Gordon glanced at the long line of fans holding jerseys, posters, ball caps, bats, baseballs, magazines, you name it Ã¢â‚¬â€ about anything you could put a signature on.
Some would say itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be a cold day in you-know-where before the Royals contend for the playoffs. But on a frigid day in Beatrice, well, a young player could dream.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have to believe in ourselves, first and foremost,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Gordon, mentioning the Colorado Rockies as an example of a team that greatly exceeded expectations with last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s World Series appearance. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You just have to have the right guys and right chemistry, and hopefully we can do something like they did.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Suddenly, time expired on this particular Royals Caravan stop. The rush of activity in the mall quickly dwindled into a handful of people milling about. It was an ordinary Monday again, except for Mayberry scurrying around looking for a cup of coffee before the tour bus departed.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You see these kids out here, and theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re so excited to get your autograph,Ã¢â‚¬Â Gordon said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It just reminds you of when you were young and doing the same thing. I enjoy every second of it. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m glad to be here.Ã¢â‚¬ÂLinky