Kansas City, Mo. Three-sport star Bubba Starling, perhaps the most celebrated high school athlete in Kansas history, made a last-second decision Monday night to forgo football at Nebraska and play baseball for the Kansas City Royals.
A person familiar with the negotiations said Starling received a team-record rookie signing bonus of $7.5 million spread over three years.
The tall, lean and exceptionally fast Starling grew up in Edgerton, Kan., about 30 minutes southwest of Kauffman Stadium. The Royals made him the fifth player taken in the June baseball draft.
"Things really didn't heat up until probably the last 5 or 6 minutes," said general manager Dayton Moore. "It came down pretty quick. I've got a lot of adrenaline going through me right now."
Moore indicated the Royals did not make a last-minute addition to their final offer.
"We had had some talks earlier today and just kind of left it at that. We just kind of reached out together."
With a scholarship to play quarterback for the Cornhuskers, Starling and super agent Scott Boras had plenty of leverage in hardball negotiations which apparently did not get resolved until Starling agreed to terms moments before the 11 p.m. CDT deadline.
"I sweat them all out," Moore said. "This was particularly tough. We knew on draft day and prior to draft day that this had a chance to work really, really good or had a chance to go wrong."
The Royals began courting Starling when he was still in his early teens, just beginning to star for Gardner-Edgerton High School.
On several occasions, they invited him to Kauffman Stadium to watch games and hit in their underground batting range. By the time they made him the No. 5 overall selection last June, he had become a local high school legend, belting tape-measure home runs, chalking up 200-yard rushing games in football and even drawing admiring looks from college basketball coaches.
If he makes it to the majors in the next 2-3 years, he will join a roster full of talented young position players who made their big league debut this season after coming in as high draft picks — including first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and second baseman Johnny Giavotella.
If the Royals had taken anyone else with their first-round pick, many fans would have been bitterly disappointed, especially those who still have not forgotten how they let a power-hitting local kid named Albert Pujols get away to St. Louis in the 1999 draft.
As a top baseball prospect who had also accepted a football scholarship, Starling was in much the same situation as Joe Mauer. After Mauer turned his back on a Florida State's football program and chose baseball, he became a four-time All-Star with the Minnesota Twins and 2009 AL MVP.
When Starling was 8 years old playing in a recreation league, parents complained to his father that they feared their kids might get hurt because Bubba threw and hit the ball so hard. So he was bumped up two years and began competing with 10-year-olds.
Playing for suburban Gardner-Edgerton last spring, he batted .481 and averaged a home run every six at-bats. His fastball has been clocked around 95 mph but he played only in center field his senior season. Playing for Team USA in the under-18 category last summer, he batted .399 with three home runs, 12 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
But his best sport may be football. His senior season, after rushing for 2,471 yards and 31 touchdowns, he was heavily recruited by just about every major program before signing with Nebraska.
"The combination of speed, power, athleticism, the ability to play the field up the middle, we feel like he's got the makings of a star player in the major leagues," said J.J. Picollo, assistant general manager.
Moore acknowledged that Starling's being a local kid made his signing even more imperative.
"We don't want to get beat in our own backyard. It's very important to us. That being said, if there was another player we felt was better than Bubba Starling from Florida or Texas, we would have selected him.
"But there's no doubt it has more appeal to us as an organization a local player, a local talent. This is his boyhood team. This is where he wants to be. He's going to take that field in the minor leagues every day with that vision of playing here in Kansas City, and making his home team proud. You need that motivation because it's very difficult to make it to the major leagues."
Nebraska had promised Starling he could play baseball for the Huskers as well as football.
"Everyone associated with our football program at Nebraska wishes Bubba nothing but the best in his future with the Kansas City Royals organization," Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini said in a statement. "I know this decision has been very difficult for Bubba and his family, as it would be for anyone in his position. In the end, Bubba was in a win-win situation regardless of his choice, and we respect the decision he has made."