Spring training games are a pleasant diversion from bitter Old Man Winter, who around this time of the year rages with particular petulance because it feels its power waning as tree buds wriggle and perennials dethaw (where I live, the temperature dipped to about 14 degrees last night from 40 that morning, a bad enough gradient made worse when you consider it was 50 over the weekend). Spring training truly embodies the best of spring hope: we glimpse upon rookies and new acquisitions and veteran stars alike with the same freshness and through the same rose-colored lenses, eager to forgive shortcomings (they're just warming up) and celebrate small achievements (Angel Berroa is batting .429! The fact that he's only 3-for-7 with three singles isn't likely to impress Royal Ingenuity, but we at IDWT believe 3-for-7 is better than 0-for-9, so... way to go, Angel!). They have all recently awaken from a four-month hibernation, and we with them.
This is all just a longwinded way for me to turn your attention to Ryan Shealy, who hit his second home run yesterday as the Royals defeated the Peoria Padres of San Diego 9-4. If Shealy were an unaccomplished rookie, we might look at this and utter bromides about how he "looks good out there" and has "potential" to "make an impact" in the big leagues "someday." But alas, Shealy is no mere rookie -- he is, along with George Brett-extraordinaire Alex Gordon, the Royals' Corner Infield of the Future. That is to say, one half of the team's corner infield now.
Is there any young first base-third base combo in the league as promising as Shealy (2006 as a Royal: .280/.338/.451) and Gordon (AA Wichita: .325/.427/.588, 29 home runs, 101 RBI, 72 walks, and a POY award)? I'll focus on the latter in a later post, but Shealy's my concern here. His career has been on an upward trajectory since his 2004 debut, in which he hit .318/.411/.584 with AA Tulsa of the Rockies organization. When he got called up the next year, all he did was bat .330 with seven doubles and two home runs in 104 plate appearances. That big league stint, however, was nothing more than a tryout for other teams, as the Rockies had (and have) someone named Todd Helton ensconced on first. So the best thing the Rockies did for Shealy -- besides manager Clint Hurdle giving him the nickname "Sully" (top right... you see the resemblance, right?) -- was trade him to Kansas City, where he was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.
In his first 23 games, Sully hovered around .300 by keeping plate discipline and a controlled swing no matter the count. An illness caused a setback, but at 27 and about to enter his first season as the likely starter, the future is warm, bright, and fully ahead of him. The spring optimism surging through me says Shealy will bat .335 with 30 home runs and 135 RBIs from the middle of the order, though realistically, we're probably looking at .305 with 25 homers and 108 RBIs. Either way, my cold, cold heart is warmed just thinking about what lies ahead.