With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game in El Paso, Bubba Starling tracked down a fly ball off the bat of Toledo’s Willi Castro in right field.
The Omaha outfielder completed the catch that wrapped up the Pacific Coast League’s 9-3 victory over the International League at Southwest University Park, then lofted the baseball toward a crowd of fans.
Starling, who hit .310 for the Storm Chasers during the first half of the season, will be with Kansas City as it opens up its second half with a home series with Detroit at Kauffman Stadium. The MLB debut comes in the eighth season of professional baseball for the former Nebraska football recruit from Gardner, Kansas.
“I’ve never been more ready or felt more ready for the big leagues,” Starling said before heading to the first all-star game of his career. The former multisport star from Gardner Edgerton High has off-the-charts athletic ability, but his baseball career has been marred by injury and offensive inconsistency.
The 26-year-old Starling owns a career .244 batting average after more than 2,500 minor league plate appearances, but he’s been hitting at nearly a .300 clip for Omaha since May 2017. Injuries derailed the end of that season and limited him to just 20 games in 2018. Now healthy, he’s had a breakout 2019.
Starling’s .310 average leads all full-season players in Kansas City’s farm system. He’s had a team-best 25 multihit games for the Chasers, including five in a row in a recent stretch in which he went 10 for 20 at the plate. He’s thrived this season with runners on base and excelled when they are in scoring position.
A promotion seemed imminent, even though the Royals removed Starling from their 40-man roster after last season. He could’ve chosen to sign with another organization but elected to re-up with Kansas City.
“There might have been an opportunity somewhere else, but I really respect (Assistant GM) J.J. (Picollo), (GM) Dayton Moore and (Assistant GM) Scott Sharp for having patience with me and the injuries I went through,” he said. “There’s no other organization that treats players like this. I was happy to sign back.”
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The Royals lured Starling to baseball with a $7.5 million signing bonus in 2011 after selecting him with the fifth overall pick in the draft. It was the club record until their recent deal with teen Bobby Witt Jr.
Scouts have long said that Starling was a major league outfielder defensively, but his high strikeout percentage and inconsistent hitting over the years had many thinking he’d never make it to the majors.
Kansas City announced Thursday that he’d be added to their active roster before Friday night’s game.
“I’ve just got to keep showing up and doing what I’m doing,” Starling said. “Obviously, people have labeled me in the past as a bust or whatnot. I don’t look at that. I just look at what I can do moving forward, showing up every day to get better. That’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s been paying off.”
Starling has kept a positive mindset since returning to Omaha for a fourth season. He joined the Chasers in 2016 after a midseason promotion from Double- A Northwest Arkansas, where he was struggling. Last month at Werner, he spoke openly of his shaken confidence at the time of his first arrival.
“Man, three years ago, I would show up for an at-bat, see a first pitch and just swing, not knowing where it was,” he said. “I was scared of failure. And I’d get two strikes, and almost every time it was a strikeout.
“Showing up to the park every day, it was taxing on me. It was just a rough year. I know that I’m this type of player, but I can’t get out of that slump. It was almost like I was going to go 0 for 4 every day.”
Starling admitted that he thought about giving up on baseball at the end of that season. He credited his family, teammates and coaches for getting him through a rough time. After getting off to a slow start in April 2017, Starling turned his season — and, perhaps, career — around with a 12-game hitting streak in May. He’s been one of the better players in the PCL ever since, earning his way to the majors Thursday.
“The support I have around me with my family and teammates and coaching staff have made me keep continuing to show up every day, try to have fun and work hard at it,” he said. “That’s what’s helped me through it all. The support I have around me is what makes it fun showing up to the field every day.”
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April 21, 1969: Galen Cisco, left, and Jack McKeon of the Omaha Royals.
Aug. 27, 1969: The Omaha Royals' first manager, Jack McKeon, celebrates. McKeon led the Chasers to back-to-back American Association titles in the franchise's first two years. McKeon would eventually lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series in 2003.
April 18, 1970: Former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney throws out the season's first pitch at the Omaha Royals game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 31, 1970: Paul Splitteroff at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1970: Omaha's Juan Rios slides home safely behind Wichita catcher Ken Suarez, as Omaha's Steve McMillan looks on at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Jan. 21, 1971: Former major league infielder Loren Babe, left, with Omaha Royals manager Jack McKeon.
An Omaha Royals team photo from 1970 and other minutia collected from the remains of Rosenblatt Stadium. The photo was taken June 8, 2012.
1972: Steve Busby, Omaha Royals pitcher.
April 12, 1972: Jack McKeon at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 6, 1973: Frank White poses for a photo at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1973: Future Baseball Hall of Fame member George Brett poses for a photo at Rosenblatt Stadium.
June 29, 1977: Clint Hurdle at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 2, 1979: Jim Bayly sweeps snow 11 days before the season opener at Rosenblatt.
1980: Omaha Royals pitcher Eddie Bane.
July 7, 1980: Steve Busby delivers a pitch.
April 4, 1992: Jeff Conine poses for a photo.
1982: Bombo Rivera, Omaha Royals.
May 19, 1983: Omaha Royals General Manager Bill Gorman poses for a photo in front of Rosenblatt Stadium.
1984: The San Diego chicken mascot entertains fans at Rosenblatt.
1984: Gene Lamont, Omaha Royals manager.
1985: Rob Crain, assistant general manager of the Storm Chasers, with team autographed baseballs from the 1985 Royals baseball team.
April 17, 1985: David Cone sports an Omaha Royals hat and a Kansas City Royals jacket at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 26, 1985: City employee Terry Cuevas spreads mixture of solvent and gasoline on the infield at Rosenblatt Stadium as part of an effort to dry the field enough to cover it with a tarp. The tarp wasn't laid on the field the two previous nights and got soaked in an overnight rainfall. The Omaha Royals were unable to play the game scheduled with the Iowa Cubs.
June 29, 1985: Guitarist Michael Woods of the rock band "America," which played at Rosenblatt Stadium following the Omaha Royals game with the Oklahoma 89ers.
May 10, 1985: Fans in the crowd seek autographs from Kansas City players.
Aug. 8, 1986: Gus Cherry, Mayor Mike Boyle and Jack Diesing break ground for the Stadium Club at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 28, 1988: Organist Lambert Bartak at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 5, 1989: CBS pro football analyst John Madden tries on an Omaha Royals cap.
Aug. 16, 1990: Omaha Royals manager Sal Rende gets a face full of cake from first baseman Russ Morman after winning the league title.
Sept. 5, 1991: Construction takes place at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1991: The final signing of the ownership papers for the Omaha Royals. Seated from left: John Boyer, Bill Gorman, Joe Adams, Mary Ann Luby. Standing from left, Rob Knight, Bill Ulrich, Jim Hildreth and Lary Wzorek. Boyer is the attorney for Walter Scott who bought a major share in the team. Gorman is the Royals' GM.
April 16, 1991: The day before the Royals open, Richard Sovereign of Sovereign Painting adds a coat of blue to the patio concession stand.
May 17, 1993: Workmen for JB Construction hurry to finish the new parking lots by Rosenblatt along 13th Street.
April 1993: Warren Buffett throws out first pitch for the Omaha Royals home opener at Rosenblatt stadium.
March 17, 1992: James Huettner welds handicap ramps.
March 13, 1992: Pictured is the South side of Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 16, 1992: The Goodrich family, from left, Nate, Barbara, Ben, Chris, 12 and Paul enjoy a game.
May 25, 1993: Rance Ristau, 3, looks like he had a good time finishing off his cotton candy during an Omaha Royals afternoon game at Rosenblatt Stadium. But Rance, son of Dan and Cynthia Ristau, saw the Royals drop an 8-5 decision to Nashville.
April 3, 1993: Scott Knight puts down new cinders in left field in front of new scoreboard.
Aug. 2, 1994: Aerial view of Rosenblatt Stadium from a helicopter.
May 25, 1994: Grounds crew removes a tarp after a rain delay.
April 29, 1995: Warren Buffett throws out the first pitch.
April 4, 1996: Warren Buffett throws out another first pitch.
May 4, 1996: Warren Buffett greets fans at an Omaha Royals game.
1999: The Omaha Royals unveil a new nickname for the team, the Golden Spikes, which is worn by mascot Casey.
June 9, 1998: Omaha's Mendy Lopez and Calgary's Lou Frazier watch the ball sale by on Frazier's successful steal of second base.
1998: Omaha Royals shortstop Felix Martinez, who was sent down from Kansas City in the aftermath of brawl with Anaheim, sits on the bench.
1998: Omaha Royals infielder Scott Leius plays at Rosenblatt with his son Michael, 2.
1998: Warren Buffett prepares to throw out the first pitch.
1998: Omaha Royals right fielder Chris Hatcher is greeted at the dugout after hitting a grand slam.
1998: Jermaine Dye, Omaha Royals.
1998: Albuquerque's David Steed is out at second base by Omaha's Steve Sisco.
Aug. 30, 1998: Mayor Hal Daub swings a mock sledge hammer at a golden spike that is held by the Omaha Royals' mascot, Casey, launching the teams new name, the Golden Spikes. The Lincoln Sport Parachute Club jumped into the stadium carrying a banner with the new name on it.
1999: Casey sports the new Golden Spikes uniform.
1999: Omaha Spikes' Sal Fasano, right, is congratulated by Ron Johnson after hitting a home run.
1999: Omaha manager Ron Johnson dines on food at home plate of Rosenblatt Stadium.
1999: Front left, Bart Thomsen, and Rick English, back left, Mike Bischof, Kent Therkelsen, Lance Beasley pose for a photo.
Sept. 6, 1999: Omaha Golden Spikes manager Ron Johnson wears a Nebraska football helmet while coaching third base.