Gordon's approach perfect for Royals
Strong work ethic made third baseman one of the best
KANSAS CITY -- Alex Gordon walked into his coach's office Tuesday morning consumed by mind and body.
He had, after all, just helped the Nebraska Cornhuskers advance to the NCAA Super Regionals after a 10-2 win over Creighton on Sunday, and had played a key role in further cementing the team's No. 3 national ranking. He was also less than an hour away from finally being drafted by one of a handful of Major League teams, be it the Nationals, Mariners, Diamondbacks or his sort-of-hometown Royals.
He had thought about those days three years ago when he went undrafted despite being named one of the nation's top 100 high school seniors. He didn't dwell too much on it, though, not with thoughts of this year's draft, preparing for the Miami Hurricanes this weekend, the day's practice and his coach standing in front of him.
"Hey," Huskers head coach Mike Anderson told Gordon and a few of his teammates, "I hope you're OK with the timing of things." He was referring, of course, to the fact that the first picks of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft coincided precisely with the beginning of Nebraska's noon practice.
"What else would we do?" they replied, almost nonchalantly. "Watch the thing?"
Absolutely, if there was a computer at practice. The draft was being conducted in ballpark war rooms throughout the country by front office personnel chocked full with as much caffeine as possible, sifting through sheet after sheet of player information. But there wasn't too much sifting for the Royals, at least while the team's staff was deciding who to select with the second overall pick. There was no one else to get but Gordon. He was their man.
Team officials phoned in the pick shortly after noon and Gordon found out a few hours later, after his older brother, Eric, got his attention during practice by waving two fingers, signifying that the Diamondbacks had passed on him with the top pick and that Kansas City had scooped him right up.
"Right there and then," Gordon said, "I knew it was the Royals."
That Gordon found out from his brother Eric, who also played baseball in college at Nebraska-Omaha, is rather appropriate for the 21-year-old.
For years, he followed Eric from one baseball diamond to another, just as his younger brothers Brett, 18, and Derek, 13, followed him around. Despite a 10-year age difference between Eric and Derek, the boys did almost everything together, especially when it came to baseball.
Just as a knack for music or literature runs through some family's genes, baseball runs through the Gordon's. They live in Lincoln, Neb., in the shadow of the Huskers' baseball heritage, and all four boys have played organized baseball. Their father, Mike, played at Nebraska, and his father, Charlie, now 83, used to coach the varsity at Lincoln Southeast High, where the boys went to school. Too many uncles and cousins to count also played.
"They played all the time," said their mother, Leslie. "They grew up doing it and we've done it all our lives. That's all we did all summer was play ball. It's been our life, it's a passion for us."
Such a passion, in fact, that when Mike came home from work, most nights he would just change clothes and follow his boys out to a baseball field. He would throw batting practice whenever they wanted to hit, or whenever he wanted to pitch it.
Position: 3B B/T: L/R
H: 6'1" W: 210
Born: 1984-02-10 Class: 4YR
Medium, sturdy, compact build. Overall body strength. Strong legs. Swing w/ lift for power. Good knowledge of strike zone. Sound hitting approach. Excellent bat speed through zone. Long ball potential. Solid arm. Steady, reliable fielder. Confident approach at plate.
And, as his sons put it, he'd throw about 300 pitches, then go home and ice the arm.
The real treat came every summer, though, when the family would cram into the car and drive about four hours south, heading straight for Kauffman Stadium. They didn't have any teams to cheer for in Nebraska -- other than the Huskers, of course -- so the Royals were their team. They cheered all the Royals, but especially George Brett. Mike and Leslie liked the Hall of Famer so much, in fact, that they named their third son after No. 5.
As for Gordon, he just liked watching Brett work hard and play the game the right way. Watching Brett made him work hard in youth baseball, and at Lincoln Southeast, and at Nebraska.
"His work habits," Anderson said, "are phenomenal. He goes about his business, works hard, and anybody who's around him, he demands they work hard with him.
"You hear it all the time, it's very cliché, but he's a coach's dream. He really is."
That work ethic translated this season into a .382 batting average, 18 home runs and 62 RBIs. He has drawn 58 walks and struck out just 34 times -- though Anderson said that statistic spoke more of the respect opposing pitchers gave him by working around him rather than throwing strikes -- which nonetheless translated to a .526 on-base percentage.
Oh, he's also stolen 23 bases in 26 attempts and plays a solid third base. According to Royals scout Phil Huttmann, who has followed Gordon for much of the last three years, he's performed at as high a level as is possible in amateur baseball.
Things weren't always quite so rosy, though. When he came to Nebraska three years ago -- he committed early, near the beginning of the July 1 early signing period -- questions arose about Gordon's defensive abilities and about whether he could start every day at third. But, as Anderson put it, he worked his tail off to the point where no more questions existed about Gordon's becoming a defensive liability.
During the last three seasons, he has helped the Huskers back to the top of the national heap, and is so committed to winning a College World Series that neither he nor his agent, Damon Thames, really wants to negotiate a contract until after Nebraska is finished with its season..
"He's worried about winning a Super Regional and going to Omaha," Thames said. "That's the beauty of Alex Gordon, he just plays to win and that's what he's focused on right now."
But in the future, within the next month or so, he will sign that professional contract and be paid to play the game he and his family loves. He will rise through the Minor Leagues -- he's equipped to move quickly through the system, Huttmann said -- and sometime within the next two years, he will be here to stay. That's the thinking, at least. And when he arrives at Kauffman Stadium, and his family sees him for the first time in the uniform they've cheered for so many years, well, it will be a very special moment.
"We sure enjoyed watching those old Royals," Leslie said, reminiscing about the teams of her sons' youth, "and we hold hope in our hearts."
The Royals, meanwhile, hold hope in theirs.
Matt LaWell is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.