KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — The next time Mike Moustakas is at Kauffman Stadium he will walk to the plate to a standing ovation and MOOOOOSE calls earned through a career that changed a franchise and a city.
In so many ways, he was the Royals' rise from the bottom. The first official draft pick by Dayton Moore, a wide-bodied, fleet-footed, howitzer-armed shortstop who hit more home runs than anyone in California high school history.
He was hope back then, a high-dollar, baseball-obsessed kid who made himself something of an organizational legend when he grabbed the collar of an older teammate who disrespected a coach.
Baseball careers are rarely linear, and Moustakas packed more wild swings than most. His first big-league home run came in his second game in Anaheim, a short drive from the batting cage his parents installed in the back yard of his childhood home. His career since is an irreplaceable part of an unforgettable run, both the highs and the lows.
Even into his third full big-league season he was so bad, so lost, that the Royals sent him to Omaha. That was 2014, two years after Our Time. Moose and the Royals were supposed to be better by then.
Of all the fundamental problems with projecting and drafting the best amateur baseball talent, the hardest to solve might be knowing what effect failure will have on them. Because it will come, always, a new and uncomfortable experience at a higher level than they've played, with more pressure than they've ever known. Asked shortly after he was drafted about the worst slump he'd ever been in, Moustakas shrugged his shoulders and mentioned something about going hitless in a game once.
That was his — and the Royals' — challenge in May 2014 when he went to hit off minor-leaguers. They wanted him to shorten his swing, to better utilize his quick and strong hands, but most of this was mental. How he reacted, one way or the other, would largely determine the path of both player and franchise.
Coaches wanted him to relax, to remember what he loved about baseball in the first place, and this is all easier said than done when a 25-year-old feels the weight of a franchise on his shoulders.
Moustakas wasn't down long. Eleven days, and it would be a nice story to tell if he immediately started crushing when he returned to KC. But that's not the way it went. He had just two hits in his first six games, and was hitting .184 after a month back.
That was a strange year. You remember. The Royals were under .500 in July, with many in Kansas City wanting owner David Glass to fire Ned Yost, fire Dayton Moore, sell off pieces at the trade deadline, something.
But the deadline passed, and then Eric Hosmer's hand broke, and then somehow the Royals turned into baseball's hottest team. They won 21 of 27 at one point, surging into first place and eventually earning the franchise's first playoff spot in 29 years.
That's when it happened.
When everything changed, for the Royals, and for Moose.
They won the first game of their first series against the Angels when Moustakas hit his first homer in more than a month. It came in the 11th inning, Moose knocking his fists together as he ran the bases, the stadium where he hit his first home run going quiet except for the visitors' dugout and the outnumbered believers in the stands.
He homered four more times that postseason, and the next year made an All-Star team, clubbed 22 more home runs, went horizontal for a catch in the dugout suites and hugged his friends after the last out of the World Series.
Moose broke what had become the Royals' infamous franchise home run record, hitting 38 last season, but the last three years have been more about what didn't happen. The collision with Alex Gordon in Chicago in 2016 robbed the Royals of their best chance at another postseason. Market forces, a rotten CBA and advice that backfired kept Moose from the sort of generational wealth he'd earned and most expected for him last offseason.
Moose is a Brewer now, traded ahead of Tuesday's deadline for a toolsy outfielder and big-league arm. It's a strong return for a two-month rental and reunites Moose with Lorenzo Cain, the best player on the Royals' 2015 championship team and now the best player on a team with the second-best record in the National League.
Moose is still one of the game's better third basemen, but his career is now almost certainly closer to the end than the beginning. The trade is good for everyone. He gets another playoff push, the Royals get help for a future they're trying to create. This is how it was always supposed to go, the path Moore envisioned when Moose's market imploded and his price dropped into the Royals' range.
Moustakas grew up with the Royals, not just as a baseball player but a man. He came into the organization as a teenager and leaves weeks before his 30th birthday, a span of his life that includes professional failures and the ultimate success, a marriage, the births of a daughter and a son and the death of his mother.
As much as anything else, the Royals' rise was defined by resiliency. And more than anyone else, Moustakas defines that resiliency. He'd never known failure when the Royals drafted him, and he'll be remembered for handling it better than anyone could've expected.
Nobody was given more pressure in the beginning, nobody saw darker corners in the middle, and nobody felt more pride in the end.