SURPRISE, Ariz. – The best baseball player in the minor leagues last season could not check into his hotel room under his own name. He wasn't being stalked exactly. Just chased by reporters who wanted to know what he thought of the baseball card that was making him famous.
So as the price of the Alex Gordon 2006 Topps – a card never intended for release scattered scarcely in packs – surged past $3,000 on eBay, Alex Gordon, the third baseman, became someone entirely different on hotel registries.
You know, the main character from "Boogie Nights" who's got a … uh …
OK, let's just say he swings a big stick, which might be the only possible segue back to baseball, seeing as Gordon does the same – on the field, thank you.
"I don't think anyone was calling that name," Gordon said, "unless they were looking for a good time or something."
Gordon laughed. He's smart, mature, funny and grounded, but, hey, he's still 23. And since he had given away his nom de hotel, he would have to come up with a new one. Because even with the baseball-card craze dying down (current price: $1,200), another is about to begin.
Gordon is going to save the Kansas City Royals. He is going to rescue them from Dante's Seventh Circle, invigorate a great baseball city beaten down by so many losing seasons and do so only three hours from Lincoln, Neb., where he grew up.
"He reminds me of Grady Sizemore a lot," said Royals manager Buddy Bell, whose previous job was as bench coach with Cleveland. "They don't say a whole lot and don't ask for anything in return. They just play hard and play well."
Undrafted out of high school, Gordon went to the University of Nebraska, won every conceivable award and signed with the Royals for $4 million after they chose him second overall in the 2005 draft. In his first minor-league season last year, he hit .325 with 25 home runs, 101 RBI at Double-A, won Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year, hit No. 1 on every prospect list worth its salt and created the kind of buzz nationally that had permeated Royals spring training earlier in the year.
Everybody loved Gordon. The way he worked. The way he trained. And, lord, the way he swung. It was a classic batting-champ swing, left-handed and lean, its holes sewn even tighter by his command of the strike zone.
Gordon's talent demanded attention that the Royals gladly gave.
"Last year, on the first day of my first spring training, they took me after practice to hit ground balls," Gordon said. "I had Buddy on my right side, George Brett on my left, feeding me information. Buddy was being serious and George was crazy.
"It was like I had the angel on my right side and the devil on my left side."
Bell was the heir to Brooks Robinson's Gold Gloves at third base, winning six straight before Brett, one of the best third basemen ever, won his in 1985. Both are invested heavily in Gordon. The Royals, under new general manager Dayton Moore, are banking on his ascent to superstardom, along with the eventual emergence of 20-year-old masher Billy Butler and Luke Hochevar, the right-hander selected No. 1 overall in last year's draft.
"It's something we've really got to be careful with," Bell said. "As a manager and a baseball player, you love being around people like this, and you really push for people like that just because of who they are and how they act and what they can do, and you forget there's not too much experience there. You need to be careful, and sometimes, unfortunately, you aren't as conservative as you want to be.
"From what I know from him, and being around him enough to have a good opinion, this kid can handle most anything. He doesn't really have to hit .800 this spring. We just want to see how he deals with ups and downs and adversity. Last year we wanted to see him play. Now we really have to pay attention to him."
While Bell wouldn't say Gordon is a lock to make the Royals, everything indicates he is. Mark Teahen, who last season was the Royals' best offensive player, is spending the spring learning to play right field. Gordon wears No. 7 after sporting No. 70 – a number usually given to longshots – last spring.
"We want him to make the club," Bell said. "I don't think there's any question about that. We've just got to be careful."
Gordon seems used to the trappings. He understands there will be phone calls to field, autographs to sign, commercials to shoot. He tries to accommodate fans and answer all the mail that arrives – even the ones with absurd requests.
"Someone asked me for a baseball card and sent me $20," Gordon said. "He asked for the (Topps) card. But I've never seen it. Didn't even get one. Of course I got every card I could think of and sent it back."
And the $20?
"I kept it," Gordon said. "Me and my buddies went out to eat. So, please say thanks to the guy who bought our meal."
- Alex Gordon
- baseball card