July 9, 2012

Wichita was stepping stone for Butler

Billy Butler, 26-year-old American League All-Star, was Billy Butler, 19-year-old rising prospect when he landed in Wichita to play Double-A baseball for the Wranglers in 2005.

Billy Butler, 26-year-old American League All-Star, was Billy Butler, 19-year-old rising prospect when he landed in Wichita to play Double-A baseball for the Wranglers in 2005.

Having batted .373, .340 and .348 in previous minor-league stints, the kid had already developed a reputation as a supreme hitter. And he rubber-stamped that reputation for the Wranglers, batting .313 in 29 games after a promotion from Class-A High Desert (Calif.) in 2005 and .331 with 15 homers and 96 RBIs during the 2006 season.

Butler has continued to hit ever since, and his .290 first half with the Kansas City Royals, complemented by 16 homers and 52 RBIs, landed him a spot in tonight’s All-Star game. It did not, however, earn him a spot on Robinson Cano’s AL Home Run Derby team, which did not go over well with the home crowd. The Kauffman Stadium faithful gave Cano an earful when he was introduced Monday night before the Home Run Derby competition.

Asked earlier in the day about his exclusion from the event, Butler was diplomatic, even though Cano had promised to strongly consider a Royals player.

“I didn’t really even think about it,’’ Butler said. “I just went out there to play the game each day focused on my job. Obviously, part of what’s gotten me here is being able to control what I can control and this is something that I can’t control. I’m just happy to be selected to my first All-Star game.’’

Butler said he hoped Kansas City fans would not treat Cano, who won the Home Run Derby competition in 2011 in Arizona, poorly.

“I don’t want anybody to get booed,’’ said Butler, who will receive a great ovation from the crowd tonight and is the only Royals player in the All-Star game.

“There are definitely guys on our team – (Jonathan) Broxton and (Alcides) Escobar – who are deserving,’’ Butler said. “But you have to understand the process and Kansas City is a small market and we all know that. But they love their baseball here as much as anyone, if not more. There’s going to be a time when we’re a force in the American League Central and they’re going to have to take more of us. I’m not saying when that’s going to be, but there’s just too much talent here for it not to happen.”

Butler said his time in Wichita, coming at such an impressionable age, was huge in his development. He said he’s especially thankful to get to play for former Royals All-Star second baseman Frank White, who managed the Wranglers for three seasons and has since had a falling out with the Royals, so severe that he is not part of the All-Star festivities.

“Frank taught me and everybody on that team in Wichita about the game of baseball,” Butler said. “Every experience I had there, and playing for Frank, was a positive for my career.”

Is This Pirates Team for Real? – Last season, Pittsburgh was in first place in the National League Central on July 25 with a 53-47 record. The Pirates went 19-43 the rest of the way to finish with 90 losses and in fifth place in the Central.

It was the 19th consecutive losing season for a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since 1992, but one that has five world championships on its resume. The 19 consecutive losing seasons is a record for a North American professional sports franchise and one that just might be – maybe – in jeopardy this season.

Pittsburgh is playing its best baseball of the season and at 48-37 is 11 games over .500 for the first time in 20 years. The Pirates lead the NL Central by a game over the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates have sparked because of improved pitching, especially in the starting rotation. But their unquestioned leader is young center fielder Andrew McCutchen, 25, who leads the National League with a .362 average, a .625 slugging percentage and 193 total bases.

McCutchen, the Pirates’ center fielder, thinks this team will have the staying power last season’s team lacked.

“I think the biggest thing for us is that overall our pitching is a lot stronger than in prior years,’’ McCutchen said. “They’ve been the ones carrying us this entire season and now our offense is starting to pick up, which is good.’’

McCutchen was on center stage Monday night as a National League participant in the Home Run Derby. It’s one of the few teams in recent years that a Pirates player has been under a spotlight.

“I think it’s pretty neat,’’ McCutchen said. “It’s great to be able to represent the Pirates. It’s something that is great for our fans. We have two pretty successful teams in Pittsburgh in the Steelers and the Penguins but for the people to be able to be involved in our success with the Pirates is great. It’s a football city and a hockey city, but I think it’s a baseball city, too.’’

Etc. – Who is the last Kansas City Royals player to have a hit in the All-Star game? Believe it or not, it’s Bo Jackson, who went 2-for-4 in the 1989 game played in Anaheim Stadium. His first hit in that game was a 448-foot home run off of the National League’s Rick Reuschel, still one of the most memorable homers in All-Star game history. Twenty Royals players have earned multiple All-Star selections, led by George Brett’s 13 appearances and five each by Amos Otis, Mike Sweeney and Frank White.

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