Gordon credits fatherhood with easing his mind
Son keeps Gold Glove-winning left fielder occupied off the field
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It's a rare moment. Alex Gordon is sitting, yes, sitting in front of his locker in the Royals' clubhouse. Usually he's in the weight room, or swinging in the batting cages, or running after balls in left field. He's a man in motion, but these days, a very relaxed man in motion.
Who can say precisely what conspired to give Gordon such serenity. Obviously, a big factor was that he was completely healthy in 2011. It helped that he had switched positions, from third base to left field. A new and successful approach to hitting certainly contributed. But, perhaps, there was no bigger factor than the arrival of his son, Max.
Parenthood has suited Alex and Jamie Gordon quite well, and the doting father credits the little guy, now 1 1/2, with giving him peace of mind in his off hours.
"It's awesome," Gordon said. "Baseball is really a second thought to me throughout the day. When I go home, I don't even think about baseball anymore. In the past, when I didn't have Max, I might go home and sit on the couch and think, 'Aw, I don't know why I didn't get a hit in my third at-bat, what did I do wrong?' But once I leave the field, it's all about my kid, and baseball doesn't even creep into my head. He's been unbelievable and a very good blessing for me."
On the field, of course, it's all about baseball and it's a rare player who attacks the game with such intensity. Gordon's work ethic is legendary and it really paid off last year. The first-round draft choice of 2005 became a first-rate player in 2011: a .303 average with 23 homers and 45 doubles and a Gold Glove Award in his first full year of outfield play.
It wasn't easy to reach that point. In his first two years with the Royals, 2007-08, Gordon was the golden boy who didn't gleam as brightly as expected. Then early in the '09 season came hip surgery followed by a slow recovery. Healed up and ready in Spring Training the following year, he made a headfirst slide into second base and jammed his right hand.
Next morning, while his teammates were in a meeting, Gordon sat alone on the floor outside the clubhouse, head bowed and tearful. He'd just learned that, instead of charging into the 2010 season with a healthy hip, he'd miss about six weeks with a broken thumb.
"Coming off the hip injury, the last thing I wanted to do was get hurt. I put a lot of work into the offseason and came in prepared and the first game -- go figure -- I broke my finger," Gordon said. "I knew I messed it up, but I didn't want it to be true so I just stayed in the game and was kind of denying it, saying in my head, 'I'm going to be fine.' Then the X-rays came back and they said, 'You're going to have to sit out six weeks.'"
Once he returned, things weren't right and he was sent off to Triple-A Omaha to recover his swing and, oh yes, switch from being a third baseman to a left fielder. A kid named Mike Moustakas was due soon to play third. For Omaha, Gordon hit up a storm and learned to love the outfield.
When that 2010 season was over, Gordon devoted the winter to working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer who not only refined his swing, but also fine-tuned his thinking. It was the latter, Gordon believes, that made the biggest difference.
"Listening to him every day and what he wanted me to think when I went up to the plate every time," he said. "Having a plan, knowing what I wanted to do every time I went up to the plate -- instead of just 'See ball, hit ball.' It was my approach more than anything."
Although the results were slow in coming early in Spring Training a year ago, manager Ned Yost kept putting Gordon into the lineup as a designated hitter.
"It helped him because he was struggling a little bit, went through three or four days of DHing where he got four or five bats each day and from that point on, when he got it, he got it," Yost said. "The rest of the spring he was on fire, right into the season which enabled me to rethink some things in terms of where to hit him in the lineup as hot as he was coming out of Spring Training."
Yost began the season with Gordon batting third. Then he went from first to fourth and back to third. Finally, on July 19, Gordon went into the leadoff spot to stay. And that's where, at least at this point, he's likely to be when this season opens.
When it came to left field, it was coaching from Rusty Kuntz and then Doug Sisson that helped Gordon adjust. Beyond that it was Gordon's incessant practice during pregame batting practice that made a big difference. Shooing away pitchers who were shagging and gabbing nearby, he simulated game action on balls hit into left field. Yost had never seen any player do that on a daily basis.
"A lot of guys can find a lot of excuses for why they can't do it," Yost said. "Alex doesn't play that game."
What Gordon did play, though, was a left field that resulted in a Major League-high 20 outfield assists and enough sterling catches to win the Gold Glove for fielding excellence.
"It was something that I never expected, especially the first year. I just wanted to come in and improve in the outfield and get better," Gordon said. "I think just taking my approach every day the way I did, coming out to BP, giving 100 percent even though it was just batting practice gave me confidence for the game and made me more relaxed for the game. It almost came natural once game time started because of all the preparation before the game."
A perfectionist, Gordon admits he was never satisfied with his play at third base. And, in retrospect, he feels that perhaps the fretting over his defense had an adverse effect on his hitting in those days. That all changed with his change of positions.
"I had fun in the outfield. I had a blast. I felt way more comfortable than I did at third. I don't know why," he said. "Maybe third wasn't my position but the outfield has either relaxed me or made me more comfortable out there."
Playing with little Max has surely helped, too.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.