SURPRISE, Ariz. — The presence of James Shields infused energy into an already loose Royals clubhouse on Friday morning. He was the highest-profile arrival as pitchers and catchers reported to the team’s complex. Omar Infante, the team’s new second baseman, was also present.
As far as bold proclamations go, Shields’ opening address was far from shocking. But his confidence in this group was evident.
“We’re in high spirits,” Shields said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think 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. This is where we start. We start here in spring training. This is where we work. And we don’t take anything for granted.”
Shields joined the organization amid much fanfare last winter. The Royals parted ways with eventual American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers (and three other players) to pry Shields from Tampa Bay. Shields delivered a typical season, with a 3.15 ERA across 228 2/3 innings.
But team officials also rave about his influence on his teammates, his dedication to his craft, and his ability to help cultivate a winning culture. The Royals won 86 games, their most since 1989. They also weathered storms along the way, like a miserable 8-20 record in May.
To hear Shields tell it, 2013 forged a stronger team for 2014.
“That’s the one thing that was lacking last year was experience,” he said. “I think guys now have it, and know what it takes.”
He added, “We were in it all the way to the last series of the year last year. So now they have a good feeling of playoff baseball. I think September baseball at the end of the season, that’s like playoff baseball. So they’ve got a good feeling. They know what it takes. They know that it’s a long season.”
When Shields showed up last year, he couldn’t help but contrast his new team to his old team. He played a pivotal role in the ongoing Rays success story. Now he hopes to play a similar part in Kansas City.
“Last year I compared the two teams,” he said. “This year, I’m not going to do that. We’re our own team now. And we’ve established ourselves as a good team. I think the dynamic of this team, from top to bottom, whether it’s defense or base-running, pitching, our bullpen and our offense, overall, I think we’re really good. We just need to be able to put it together.”