Imagine just wrapping up your senior year of high school and you have a scholarship to play quarterback at one of the most storied programs in the country. Now, imagine that you are also a consensus first round draft pick in the MLB draft Finally, imagine the team, the hometown team and team you grew up loving, take you with the number one pick in the draft all at the age of 18.
For Bubba Starling this was a reality. It also came with some unimaginable pressure. Pressure that even the greatest of athletes would have a terrible time trying to overcome.
Starling started in the minors in 2012 with the Burlington Royals in Rookie ball. After making it to Omaha in 2016, he is in his fourth season with the Storm Chasers. In fact, an injury filled year in 2018, along with some other struggles, led to Starling being non-tendered by the Royals. Starling hit .257 for the season with a OPS of .664
The Royals signed Starling and assigned him back to Omaha in the off-season. With a new contract in hand, Starling has had his best year for Omaha hitting .323 and an OPS of .807, which now more than ever has Royals fans clamoring for him to be added to the 40 man roster and brought to Kansas City.
Bubba was nice enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions. Most of his answers and his play this year show just how much he has matured as a player and a person in his career in the Royals system.
Q: You grew up in the Kansas City area. What was it like to be drafted by your home town team?
BS: “It was awesome. Obviously being from the Kansas City area I was a huge fan. I got to watch some of the greats: the Joe Randas, Carlos Beltrans, Mike Sweeneys when I was a kid and to be drafted by them was pretty awesome.”
Q: You were a multiple sport athlete growing up. Is there a sport that you preferred?
BS: “Football kind of came about probably my sophomore year and as I went into my junior year, offers started to be thrown my way from various colleges and it kind of just picked up and football was always probably my favorite sport from then on. I enjoyed whatever season I was playing, basically with all my teammates, so you know I battled it weather it was basketball, football, or baseball, I always wanted to win.”
Q: What advice do you have for kids who are playing multiple sports at a high level?
BS: “I think it’s great that the kids these days are playing more sports and not specializing. I think each sport can help them out with various other sports too. That is what I learned. I just think it is good to keep being active and playing those different sports and interacting with your teammates and there is a lot of stuff that goes into it.”
Q: Do you ever allow yourself to look back and wonder what it would have been like to play Quarterback at a high D-1 level at a program like Nebraska?
BS: “It would have been a great opportunity. At the time Shawn Watson and Tim Beck coming in they were Offensive Coordinators. I can’t remember who left first or where they went. I know Tim Beck is at Texas now, but it would have been a great opportunity. You know, you think about it sometimes and where a guy is at now if they are in the NFL right now that you played against or played with. Guys like Ameer Abdullah for Nebraska are in the NFL right now, so it is cool to see them doing there thing but I am happy where I am right now.”
Q: Being a highly sought after athlete in multiple sports, what is the biggest challenge starting in Minor League Baseball?
BS: “I think there was a lot of pressure being drafted where I was, being from Kansas City and where I got drafted people thinking I would make it up there quick. Obviously Kansas is not Florida, it’s not Texas, it’s not California type of competition, you guys know that. They play more games and they play year round, guys who do specialize and that get more at bats in and get more time on the field. Guys like me only play twenty, twenty five games a season and half of the time it was too cold or rain outs or what not. For guys like me and guys in the Midwest, that’s why they need to go out and get there showcasing in and do stuff like that. It has been a long journey so far.”
Q: Statistically speaking this has been one of your better years. What adjustments have you made over the last couple of years?
BS: “I think just being a little more comfortable at the plate, staying positive. I think me personally being a good teammate and taking care of your work before the games kind of takes care of its self. Would I like to be more of a power hitter, extra base hits guy? Yes. I think that is coming, but I am just going to take my hits when I get them and keep being positive about it all.”
Q: Have you noticed being here in Omaha the extra love from the fans being that you were committed to Nebraska?
BS: “Well there is a lot of great fans here. Obviously here and there are different fans that are Royals fans wherever you go in the Pacific Coast League, but especially here it is fun showing up. Lot of great fans here and a lot of big crowds. I enjoy the weekends, especially big crowds and the fireworks, but they are sure passionate about their football though.”
Q: You have been around a lot of areas is there are favorite ballpark that you have?
BS: “You know what I would say oddly Oklahoma City. Something about the atmosphere there at Chickasaw Bricktown park, I love playing there, It’s a fun place to play. I think a lot of our guys would say the same thing. Nashville’s another good place. There’s really not too many parks here in the league that that you show up and are like aww gosh I wish we didn’t have to play here.”
Q: You don’t get a lot of down time during the season but what but what do you do when you get some down time?
BS: “The down time that I get is a lot of relaxing. Sometimes I will be on the lake with a few guys, Jonathan Dziedzic and Andrew Susac will be fishing a little bit. Usually it is grab a little food and head out on the lake or something.”
Photo Credits: Kent Sievers, Omaha World-Herald