Shields brings high spirits to first official day of camp
Veteran excited about new acquisitions, Royals' potential in upcoming season
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- It was a rather quiet morning in the Royals' clubhouse on Friday. Not much going on -- until James Shields burst through the door.
Wearing a black cap touting his home state of California, a black T-shirt, gray shorts and sandals, Shields was carrying a bright blue Royals equipment bag. Clearly, he had arrived ready to work.
Shaking hands, he made his way to his corner locker and was greeted by manager Ned Yost and fellow starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Actually, even though this was the official reporting date for Royals pitchers and catchers, most of the pitchers were taking the day off. After all, most of them had been throwing in the Arizona sun for several days now. Time for a break.
Shields, though, was just checking in, and his arrival gave the Royals their full complement of 31 pitchers and six catchers. At least Yost said he wasn't aware of anyone missing.
Naturally, Shields, as a leading light of the lockerroom, was quickly surrounded by reporters, and his message was predictably positive.
"We're in high spirits. We've got a lot of work to do. Spring Training is where it all starts. Our main goal this year is to go to the playoffs and win the World Series -- bottom line," Shields said. "This is where we start. This is where we work, and we don't take anything for granted."
There you go -- win the World Series.
That's something that Shields hasn't experienced, even though he went to the World Series in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Rays. And he's decided to stop drawing parallels between the rise of those Rays and the current Royals.
"Last year I compared the two teams. This year I'm not, I'm not going to do that," Shields said. "We're our own team now. and we've established ourselves as a good team. I think the dynamic of this team is from top to bottom, whether it's defense, if it's baserunning, pitching, our bullpen or our offense, overall we're pretty good. We just need to be able to put it together."
The difference, in his view, is the experience the Royals absorbed late last season when they found themselves within striking distance of the American League's second Wild Card slot.
"A lot of these guys had never played September baseball," Shields said, "and what I mean by 'September baseball,' is you're in the hunt. Every day's a fight, every day's a grind, and you grind it all the way to the last series of the year. ... That's like playoff baseball, and I think they've got a good feeling of it."
Ultimately, the Royals finished 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card race, but they did get a delicious taste of late-season competitiveness.
"They know what it takes, they know that it's a long season, they know there's going to be some ups and downs," Shields said. "And last year was good for the learning aspect of it. How many ups and downs did we go through last year? Almost every single kind you can possibly think of. So this year, hopefully we're going to be a little more consistent with the wins."
That would mean, certainly, avoiding the sort of 8-20 month of May they endured.
"We experienced a lot of downs last year early in the season, and we were still in it at the end of the year," he said.
Asked about the additions of the projected new one-two punch atop the Royals' lineup -- center fielder Norichika Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante -- Shields gave two thumbs up.
"I think second base was one of the holes we had to fill," he said. "Between Elliot, Gio and Getzy [Elliot Johnson, Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz], they did a great job last year, but it's tough when you're playing once every couple days to stay consistent. I think Omar there is going to be nice to have, and I think Esky [shortstop Alcides Escobar] is going to gel pretty well with him.
"As far as our leadoff hitter, [Aoki] never strikes out, he puts the bat on the ball and has a good at-bat. As a pitcher, you don't like facing guys like that, because you just never know what they're going to do. They're just pesky guys. They get on base, and I think he's going to be a bright spot in our lineup."
The first official workout for pitchers and catchers comes on Saturday, and the day will start with physicals -- an early 5:45 a.m. MT call for Yost and his staff, followed by players' exams from 6:30 to 8:45 a.m.
Then the pitchers and catchers will get to work. Many of the infielders and outfielders have been practicing on their own -- they don't have to report until Wednesday -- and they've been told to take Saturday off.
But once the full-squad workouts begin Thursday, there won't be many chances to take a breather.
"If you don't grind it out," Shields said, "it's going to be a long season."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.