This is due in
part to Gordon's mildly obsessive approach to training. He's been lifting
weights seriously since he was 14 and is fastidious about his diet. He says he
hasn't eaten fast food in more than a year, he cuts off all visible fat from
his meat (often then giving it to the lanky Hochevar as a joke), and, as
Hochevar says, "he drinks like 19 protein shakes a day." Gordon smiles
when told this. "Not that many," he says, "but I will put down
four." The shakes, always chocolate and always made with skim milk, are
also his stress relievers; he has one before each game, right after he finishes
his strong work ethic to his upbringing. His father, Mike, a beverage delivery
truck driver, would leave the house at 4:30 a.m., and when he returned at 5
p.m., Alex and any number of his brothers--he is the second of four boys--would
be waiting with gloves in hand. Mike would take them to a local park and throw
BP. Nearly every day. For one to two hours. "No ice or anything, no L
screen," says Alex, admiringly.
Saturdays, I'd bring a bag of 100 balls, and I'd probably empty it three or
four times, then do it again on Sunday afternoon," says Mike, who played
baseball at the University of Nebraska. "We lost a lot of balls, but
watching them play was more than I could ever ask for." When the kids got
older, Mike and his wife, Leslie, a registered nurse from whom he's now
divorced, would each take a car and a child or two, often in different
directions, bound for one amateur tournament or another. They'd leave on Friday
night and usually wouldn't return until Sunday night.
brothers were talented--Eric, 25, played at Nebraska-Omaha; Brett, 20, plays at
Park University in Parkville, Mo.; and the youngest, Derek, 15, is currently on
the reserves team in high school--Alex stood out at an early age. At three he
began hitting lefty, after Mike found him imitating his brother Eric and
crossing his hands over. (He throws right.) By 12 he was clearly special.
"He did things kids his age shouldn't [be able to] do," says Randy
Brolhorst, who coached Gordon in youth ball and at Lincoln Southeast High.
"Every Memorial Day the 12-year-olds play in a tournament on a field with
300-foot fences. Alex was hitting home runs over that fence at 12. In my 34
years I can't remember another kid doing that."
.587 as a high school junior, Gordon was intentionally walked 25 times in 23
games, by Brolhorst's count, as a senior. Though he would have been drafted,
Gordon alerted teams of his intention to go to college. "I didn't think I
was mature enough," he says. "It was the best decision of my life
because I grew as a person."
At Nebraska he
was the NCAA player of the year as a junior. On the day of the 2005 draft he
chose to practice rather than wait for a phone call from the team that selected
him, because the NCAA Super Regional Series was coming up. He learned the
result only when his brother Eric held up two fingers from the stands. Once
signed, Gordon impressed quickly. "He had probably the best spring of [any
of our players] last year," says Bell. After he hit .325 with 29 homers for
Wichita, Gordon was named Baseball America's minor league player of the year
During the season
Gordon developed a friendly rivalry with Butler, his Wranglers teammate. Though
two years younger, the 6'1, 240-pound Butler was drafted 14th overall in '04
and may be the better pure hitting prospect (though his glovework at third base
was so bad, the team is switching him to the outfield). In Double A Wichita
last year, Butler batted .331 with 15 homers and 96 RBIs in 119 games, winning
MVP honors at the All-Star Futures game along the way. He has power to all
fields, as was on display this spring during his thunderous batting practice
sessions. "I hate to compare him to anyone," says Bell, who then does
just that, "but he's a Frank Thomas type, a guy with some power who really
understands hitting at the same time."
training Butler had eight hits in his first 12 at bats at week's end was
hitting .481 with two home runs. Gordon, however, struggled in the early going.
During the first week he was swinging under the ball rather than through it,
launching too many pop flies. "He's going to have some tough times this
year, I won't lie to you," Brett said one early March morning, "but
he's got enough brains and confidence to get through it." Brett paused and
sent a stream of tobacco juice plummeting to the grass. "Somebody once told
me, the worst curse you can put on somebody is unlimited potential, because you
can never live up to it. You hit .350 with 50 HRs, and that's not good enough.
But Alex is about as close as anybody I've seen in a long time in this
organization. We said that about Beltran a little bit. But Alex is going to be
a star, no doubt in my mind."
As Brett said
this, Gordon entered the batting cage not far behind him and dug in, a
franchise's last great hitter and its next, separated by 100 yards, 30 years
and, Royals fans hope, little else.