Kansas City, Mo. Bubba Starling is just like everybody else who follows the Kansas City Royals — eager to see how good he can be.
“I just think I can be pretty good,” said the three-sport star who grew up in the Kansas City area and became perhaps the most celebrated prep athlete in Kansas history.
“I can’t wait to see what I can do with the great instructors over in Arizona and just playing one sport all year around,” he said in his first news conference Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
About 42 hours earlier, just moments before major league baseball’s deadline for signing draft picks, Starling agreed to give up a football scholarship to Nebraska and accept the Royals’ $7.5 million signing bonus, spread out over three years.
“Of course I’m going to work my tail off,” he said.
Since he was 8 years old and the fathers of other 8-year-olds feared their boys might get hurt competing against him, Starling has looked like he belonged in a higher league.
He built a tremendous reputation in high school hitting tape measure home runs, drawing rave notices in basketball and leading Gardner-Edgerton to the state football playoffs while rushing for more than 2,000 yards his senior season. Nebraska promised he could also play college baseball if he would consent to strapping on the pads and grooming himself to be their quarterback.
Now the 6-5, 195-pound outfielder is headed for the Royals’ minor-league instructors in Arizona, finally relieved of the pressure of picking one sport.
The family did not agree to Kansas City’s offer until a few minutes before the deadline.
“It was stressful, but it was fun,” Starling said. “Just growing up, I loved baseball. It was my first love, of course. Two great options. I went up to Nebraska and got to meet everyone up there and see what that was like. I chose baseball. It’s my first love. I’m definitely glad to get it over with. I’m happy to be a Royal.”
He’s no stranger to Kauffman Stadium.
“I grew up a Royals fan. I’m 35-40 minutes away,” he said. “Obviously, when I was a little kid growing up and going to games, and just thinking, I would love to play here. Of course, I was drafted by them. It’s just a pretty special time.”
Asked what he would say if he were turning in a scouting report on himself, he said, “definitely athletic.”
“I can do pretty much anything you want me to on the field,” he said. “As far as outfield, I can run down any kind of flyball. I’m going to read it real well.
“Batting, there is going to be some stuff to still work on because I played three sports in high school. You don’t get to concentrate on one sport like some other guys, Starling said.”
His agent, Scott Boras, is no stranger to last-minute negotiations. He’s done it with several recent Royals first-rounders, including first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas.
“Soon this relationship (with Kansas City) will end because the Royals will be drafting much lower,” Boras said.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore said earlier he was worried that Starling might opt for the Gridiron.
“What we are doing here is building a group of players that want to be part of winning a championship in Kansas City,” he said. “Every player we sign, we expect them to have that goal in mind. Ultimately it comes down to 25 men in the clubhouse that want to win for each other and for the city.
“That’s the main reason Bubba Starling is sitting here today. He’s a winner. He’s a terrific athlete,” Moore added. “He’s going to be a terrific baseball player.”