KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bubba Starling played in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday in El Paso, Texas.
It was a seminal moment in Starling’s career, a sign that all the talent and promise he showed as a prep star at Gardner Edgerton High School hadn’t gone to waste.
But the real proof came after the game.
“The game got over with and I had a text from (Kansas City Royals Vice President/Assistant General Manager of Player Personnel) J.J. (Picollo) asking if I could give him a call,” Starling said. “I gave it a few minutes, reached out to him and did a little three-way phone call with (Assistant General Manager for Amateur Scouting) Lonnie (Goldberg), who drafted me.”
Surrounded by his family, who was in El Paso for the Triple-A All-Star Game, Starling learned that he was finally getting called up to the big leagues for his hometown Royals.
Goldberg had the honor of telling Starling.
“It was very special that Lonnie got to break the news to me,” Starling said.
Starling, 26, was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He received a club-record signing bonus, which still stands as the largest ever given to a position player or a high school player.
A three-sport star in high school, Starling turned down a dual scholarship for football and baseball at the University of Nebraska and instantly became the face of the Royals’ future.
Injuries and strikeouts plagued those early years as Starling languished in the minors while the Royals went to consecutive World Series, winning the franchise’s second championship in 2015.
Starling entertained the idea of giving up the game he loved.
“Some people don’t know how tough baseball really is,” he said. “You can be as physically gifted as you want to be, but most of it’s mental. When I first came out of high school, I didn’t know that.”
Rather than crumble, and walk away with the $7.5 million signing bonus to fall back on, Starling persevered. He matured through the struggles and worked hard to refine his mental approach to the game.
Starling admitted he may have tried to do too much, put too much pressure on himself and worried about failure too frequently at the plate early in his minor-league career.
It took 4 1/2 years in the Royals’ system before Starling made it to Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He finally reached Class AAA Omaha in 2016, only to have injuries derail his big-league dream again.
But somewhere along the way, Starling said the game became fun again.
“You fail so much, you get down on yourself — that snowballs into days, weeks,” he said. “When you have a great mindset coming into the day every day, it’s only going to help you out throughout the day.”
He no longer feels the weight of expectations like he once did and said he’s never been more ready to make his MLB debut. Aside from winning, Starling’s main goal is to keep having fun.
Hundreds of people from Gardner, if not more, are expected to pack Kauffman Stadium as Starling starts in center field and bats seventh for the Royals against the Detroit Tigers. First pitch is at 7:15 p.m.
“It’s very special,” Starling said. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. Dreamed about it as a little guy growing up, coming to ballgames here in Kansas City. Now that it’s finally happening, I’m just very excited.”
Starling thanked the Royals front office for sticking with him “through the ups and downs of this whole process” and credited teammates, coaches and family for giving him the support to follow through with his childhood dream.