He knows about hits: Brooks set to join Royals
By BOB DUTTON The Kansas City Star
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Royals outfielder Garth Brooks — country music's biggest superstar — already has more than enough baseball memories to fill a double album.
But he keeps coming back for more.
On Monday afternoon, Brooks slipped into the Royals' offices at the Surprise Recreation Campus, during a lull in the daylong showers, to sign his contract as a minor-league free agent.
This marks his fourth spring in a major-league camp.
“The kick for me,” Brooks said, “is the (charitable) foundation and being able to get players involved. This thing has just grown and grown since we've started.”
The Royals agreed last month to sign Brooks to further his Teammates for Kids Foundation charity. He previously attended camp with the Padres in 1998 and 1999 and with the Mets in 2000.
Club officials are bracing for a crush of media and fan attention today when Brooks is expected to be in uniform for the first time. Attendance at practice is expected to jump from a few hundred to several thousand.
“We've met with the Surprise Campus people about security,” said David Witty, the club's vice president for broadcasting and public relations. “They're ready for that.”
Brooks, 42, is among country music's most-decorated stars, having sold more than 105 million albums since 1989. His career includes 25 No. 1 hits.
Manager Tony Pena and general manager Allard Baird each said they had to be convinced Brooks would not cause a distraction to the team's preparation.
“It is a real loose camp,” Pena said, “and I want to keep it that way. Allard and everybody in the front office have taken steps to make sure it will be fine.
“We're going to talk about baseball. We're going to teach baseball. He's willing to do that.”
Baird said he contacted officials with the Padres and Mets to gauge Brooks' impact on camp. He, too, is convinced Brooks' appearance won't affect the club's practice sessions.”
“As far as our on-field preparation,” Baird said, “nothing will change. That is very important to me, and I think it is important to Garth.”
From all accounts, Brooks works hard to fit into the clubhouse. He requested and received the Royals' off-season training guidelines to prepare for spring training.
Interview topics will be limited to baseball and the foundation.
Even so, Brooks remains a master storyteller who relates his baseball experiences in much the same manner of his stage performances.
Brooks tells of his first catch, a snow-cone grasp at the end of a long run, while playing in for the Padres in spring training.
“I was in left field when the game started,” he said. “And when the umpire shouted ‘Play ball,' I had tears in my eyes. And the first guy hits a short pop just over the shortstop's head, and suddenly everybody is looking at me.
“Now, I've got tears in my eyes. I can't even see the ball. And I don't know if you've seen me play, but, well, I'm not that fast. But I come tearing in and, somehow, I make the catch with the ball hanging out of the tip of the glove.”
Of course, the fans roared.
Then there was a game between the Padres and Cubs in Mesa, Ariz.…
“I'm playing left field in the ninth,” Brooks recalled. “And who comes up with two outs but Sammy Sosa. I took a step back and felt the warning track and thought I might be playing too deep.”
Just about that time, a Cubs fan began heckling Brooks — in effect treating him like any other opposing player; perhaps the supreme compliment. Almost.
“He was yelling everything,” Brooks recalled. “And then he said, ‘And your music stinks, too!' ”
And Sosa? He struck out.
Brooks went one for 22 in his two years with the Padres and then spent the 2000 spring with the Mets. There, he was hitless in 17 at-bats. Even so, he got a call to join the team later that year in the World Series against the Yankees.
“I was late as usual,” he said, “and they were getting on me about that. Then I get to the clubhouse and they've got a locker set up for me. With No. 7, my number!”
Brooks took infield practice that night with the team. And the Mets won — their only victory in that World Series.
Maybe Brooks is indeed a charm; the Padres reached the World Series in 1998.
“Two teams, two World Series appearances,” Royals president Dan Glass said. “Did you notice that?”
The Royals list Brooks, 6 feet 1 and 210 pounds, as a switch-hitting outfielder who throws right-handed. He played baseball in high school but switched to track and field at Oklahoma State, where he threw the javelin.
The Teammates for Kids Foundation raises money for children's charities around the world. It began in 1999 with the help of 67 major-league players. Membership includes more than 450 professional baseball, football and hockey players.