As all-star games go, playing in the Class AAA event is the most bittersweet.
Omaha Royals Kila Ka'aihue and Alex Gordon will experience the feeling in Wednesday's Class AAA All-Star Game in Allentown, Pa. The game will be televised at 6 p.m. on the MLB Network.
“You kind of want to be in the big leagues,” Ka'aihue said. “At the lower (minor league) levels, you're not thinking about that … you're just happy you're one of the best in the league. But now you're knocking on the door of the big leagues and you go to this game instead … so it is different.”
Despite being two of the best players in the Pacific Coast League, neither Ka'aihue nor Gordon has been able to return to the majors in nearly two months.
Gordon started the season on the disabled list, quickly joined Kansas City, but was sent to the minors and asked to change positions in early May. Ka'aihue spent two weeks on Kansas City's big-league roster in May, leaving the day after Gordon arrived in Omaha, yet appeared in only two games. He was returned to Omaha on May 20.
With both players in the lineup regularly since, the Royals have dominated the PCL.
“I think they both understand that they need to continue to get their work in here so that when they do get that call, they're ready to go,” Omaha manager Mike Jirschele said.
For the season, Ka'aihue is hitting .306 with 18 homers and 60 RBIs in 75 games. Gordon is hitting .322 with 13 homers and 41 RBIs in 63 games. Ka'aihue, who has drawn a minor league-high 77 walks, leads the league in on-base percentage (.463) and ranks fourth in slugging percentage (.584). Gordon is second in on-base percentage (.446) and fifth in slugging (.579).
Gordon typically hits third in the Omaha lineup, Ka'aihue fourth. Their ability to get on base and drive in runs has helped players such as Scott Thorman (.276, 15 homers, 55 RBIs) and Ed Lucas (.319, .542 slugging percentage) come to the plate in ideal situations. And they've delivered.
“It's a beautiful thing to have guys like Gordon and Kila hitting in front of you,” Lucas said. “You know that pretty much every time you come to the plate, at least one of those guys is going to be on base. But up and down the lineup, we really don't have any weaknesses.”
the Royals are a half-game out of first place in the PCL's American Conference North. Like most teams contending for first place, they have multiple players putting together quality seasons. That extends to the pitching staff, too.
“I'm a little disappointed we didn't get a couple of pitchers on (the All-Star team), too,” Jirschele said.
Gordon said it's an honor to be playing in the AAA All-Star Game.
“It's an honor to be selected to any All-Star game,” he said. “And it's great that Kila is going, too.”
After struggling for his first week back in Omaha, Gordon took off and briefly was the PCL's leading hitter. His average topped out at .381 on June 7, but dropped to .310 on Thursday. He went 6 for 10 in his final three games before the break to get to .322.
“You have your ups and downs during the season. That's baseball,” Gordon said. “I was feeling better earlier, and I don't feel as good now. I'll just try to do some extra work and try to turn it around.”
Ka'aihue has put together a steady season after struggling through 2009.
Both Gordon and Ka'aihue are left-handed hitters, and so is Thorman behind them. Pitchers have tried to take different paths through the heart of the Omaha order.
“I haven't figured it out yet,” Ka'aihue said. “One series I'll walk 10 times, and the next series I won't walk at all. I think it's more situational. I don't think anyone has a set way of pitching to us. And if there's an open base, they're not going to pitch to you.
“It's fun when the guy behind you drives you in.”
With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, rumors have already begun swirling regarding Kansas City's plans. Outfielders David DeJesus, Scott Podsednik and Jose Guillen are all potential trade targets. Moving them would create opportunities for Gordon and Ka'aihue.
“You never know,” Gordon said. “You don't know if anything will happen. They've been playing pretty well (in the majors), so you wonder if they will make any moves.”
Ka'aihue also tries not to focus on what could happen.
“They've got business decisions up there with guys making (big) money,” Ka'aihue said. “There's nothing I can do about it, so there's no sense worrying about it. I look at it. I've talked to my agent about it. But there's nothing I can do.”
Gordon was basically a major leaguer for the past three years, and Ka'aihue has been close to it — he was first promoted to Omaha in 2008.
But both are just 26 years old.
“They still have a lot of time left in their careers,” Jirschele said. “They're just waiting for their shot.”
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