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Fischer showed less compassion for the pitchers in the American League, and in the spring of 1975 he recommended that Kansas City draft Hurdle. The Royals wanted another opinion, so they brought Hurdle to their minor league complex in Sarasota to take batting practice under Lau's watchful eye. "From the time he took his first swing there was no doubt in my mind," Lau says. Adds Fischer, "It was the greatest exhibition you ever saw."
The Royals made Hurdle the ninth pick of the first round and signed him for a reported $50,000 bonus. The big loser was the University of Miami, which had signed Hurdle, an All-State quarterback, to a grant-in-aid.
Hurdle rapidly rose through the Royals' minor league system. At Sarasota, he made the Gulf Coast League all-star team. He almost met his Waterloo at Waterloo, Iowa, where he hit only .180 in the first half of the season, but he surged to .235 and was named prospect of the year in the Class A Midwest League. Because of a stipulation in his contract, Hurdle was invited to Kansas City's training camp last spring even though the club had already ticketed him for Double-A at Jacksonville. "Wait a minute," Hurdle said. "How about seeing what I do here first?"
What Hurdle did was hit .300 against big league pitching, and he landed in Omaha, the Royals' affiliate in the Triple-A American Association. After hitting .328 with 16 homers and 66 RBIs, he was named the league's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. That earned Hurdle a brief trial with Kansas City at the end of the season, and all he did was bat .308 with two home runs and seven RBIs in nine games.
When he made his debut on Sept. 18, he was barely past his 20th birthday, making him the youngest Royal ever in the club's nine-year history. He celebrated the occasion by hitting a 450-foot home run and signing autographs for an hour and a half after the game. Playing winter ball in Venezuela, he hit .305 and was either first or second in homers. RBIs and runs scored.
But Hurdle does have some deficiencies. For one, he is not very fast. For another, he is a notoriously slow starter at bat. In Omaha last year he had only eight hits in his first 55 at bats. Despite his youth and impetuosity, he does get good marks for maturity and discipline on the field. John Sullivan, Hurdle's manager at both Waterloo and Omaha, says, "He may have been only 19 last year, but it seemed like he was 19 going on 29."
"I'm not getting any younger," Hurdle says. "My career has been like a book and this is the climax. I'm just going out and deal. I've got my chance and if I don't make it I won't have anybody to blame but myself."
Among those who have no doubts that Hurdle can make it is Brett, who predicts a .300 average for Hurdle in his rookie season. Only four years ago Brett was himself a 20-year-old trying to break in, and he knows just what Hurdle will have to go through. "Clint is a lot like me," he says. "I guess that's one of the reasons we've become close. In 1974 I was the All-American boy trying to make it in the big leagues, and now it's Clint. I can remember the front office asking me not to chew tobacco or go into bars. I was their golden boy. Now the golden boy is Clint, and they'll probably want to protect him, too."
In order to keep an eye on Hurdle, Manager Herzog has threatened to take him on every Royal road trip this spring. Fort Myers is 100 miles from the Royals' closest big league rival, and four-hour bus rides every other day or so are one of the club's rites of spring. But the Royals will probably have no more success putting a bridle on Hurdle than they had with Brett.
"You've got to get it while you can," Hurdle said last week while cruising through Fort Myers in his new Dodge van, a homey vehicle equipped with a refrigerator, sink, CB radio, stereo tape deck, fold-out bed and spittoon. Hurdle keeps a harmonica within easy reach on the padded dashboard, and the refrigerator behind him is never empty.